Top officials in the Prince George's County Licenses and Permits Department intervened on three occasions in the past year to obtain special treatment for Republican associates doing business with the department.
Two of the cases involved Thomas Wellons, an automobile repair shop owner with close ties to the officials. The third involved Richard Norair, a prominent political ally of County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan.
The County Council earlier this week asked Hogan to convene the County Board of Ethics to determine whether the licenses and permits department officials -- William Gullett, the department director who is a former Republican county executive, and Charles Deegan, his assistant -- violated the county ethics code in one of the cases involving Wellons.
County Administrator Kenneth Duncan said Hogan has agreed to ask the ethics board to examine that case and he has instructed Gullett and Deegan to "disqualify themselves from this case or any other case in which there are similr circumstances."
"We have got to be concerned about the appearance of conflict of interest," Duncan said.
Gullett has not yet paid off a $1,000 loan Wellons made to him in his unsuccessful 1974 bid for reelection as county executive. Deegan is a close friend of Wellons and the two jointly own property in north Deale, Md.
In the case to come before the ethics board, Gullett intervened in a zoning appeals board hearing on zoning violations by Wellons. Gullett said yesterday he did so because his inspectors failed to follow proper procedures in citing Wellons' property near Forestville. Gullett also said he has no personal relationship with Wellons and wasn't aware that his former political campaign committee still had an outstanding laon from the businessman.
Deegan said his intervention -- asking that one case be temporarily dropped and chastising an inspector in another case for giving Wellons trouble -- was also only to ensure that proper procedures were followed without "harassing" people.
Another incident involving Wellons occurred after a shop he owned in Moringside burned down last July. According to department records, Wellons began rebuilding the shop without its being inspected and enlarging it without the necessary building permits or zoning approval.
When an inspector with the department citied Wellons for violating the zoning and building codes and told Wellons he must stop rebuilding or using the structure, Wellons called Deegan for help.
According to sources familiar with the incident, Deegan met the inspector at the Morningside shop and told him not to bother with any zoning problems that an enlargement caused. He also told the inspector to quickly finish citing Wellons so that the businessman could make the needed adjustments and finally get a permit to use the shop.
Deegan said yesterday he simply met with the inspector to "tell him we're here to help people, not to jump all over them. (The inspector) then apologized to Wellons and told him what he had to do" to get a permit released for his auto shop.
Deegan said he does not remember telling the inspector to ignore the zoning code violations caused by Wellon's unauthorized expansion of the repair shop. "If I said anything about zoning it was only not to worry about it and to concentrate on engineering problems because I don't know anything about zoning."
The Norair case involved an apparent willingness by Gullett to ignore the advice of zoning officials in both the Planning Board, which hears all zoning cases, and in his own department to force Norair to stop using his property on Brightseat Road to store huge construction equipment.
Two temporary permits issued in 1975 and 1976 allowed Norair to use the property to store equipment his construction company used for Metro construction even though this violated the zoning code.
Before the permits expired, Norair asked the county for permission to keep his equipment on the site permanently. The request was denied twice by the planning board staff.
Nearly a year later, long after both temporary permits had expired, a zoning inspector for Gullet's department reported that Norair was violating the zoning code and so informed the company.
Norair met with Gullett several months later; a the meeting Gullett's staff recommended that Norair be forced to evacuate the property or face possible legal action.
Gullet chose to ignore the recommendations and instead took advantage of a newly enacted zoning law change allowing the department director to grant extensions of temporary permits.
Although the new law says such extensions are permitted only if construction is actually occurring on or near the site involved, Noriar said his company is now doing no work for Metro in Prince George's.
"It's dead storage," said Norair. "We're gradually getting rid of the equipment."
Gullett said this was the first and only time he has granted an extension to a temporary permit. He said Norair indicated his company would be vacating the property within the two-year time period Gullett set for the extension. Gullett said he therefore felt the extension was justified.