ANNAPOLIS, DEC. 1 -- The director of public housing here has faced calls for his resignation, accusations of conflicts of interest and an investigation by the FBI. Now city officials are trying to force him to tear down part of his large Eastport house, claiming he built it too close to his neighbor's property line.
In the past, Arthur G. Strissel Jr. has claimed that the property dispute is part of Mayor Dennis Callahan's efforts to make his life miserable.
Taking the stand today in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court, Strissel said the city was harassing him over his property and said the city's former director of public works had told him privately that the city was harassing him.
After today's hearings, Strissel said his lawyers have told him not to discuss his theory that the lawsuit is the result of a vendetta by Callahan until after Judge Robert Heller has made his decision in the case. The trial, which is being heard without a jury, is expected to end Wednesday.
Callahan inherited Strissel, 39, when he took office two years ago and has been unable to get rid of him. The mayor has called the housing director a "madman," said he has mismanaged the city's 1,130 units of public housing and been insensitive to the needs of tenants.
But Strissel can be fired only by the housing authority's five-member board of directors, who are appointed by the mayor and serve staggered four-year terms. So far, Callahan has appointed two members and will not obtain a majority on the board until early next summer.
The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides much of the money used to run public housing in Annapolis, and the FBI say they are investigating the awarding of contracts by housing agency under Strissel. Earlier this year, two Baltimore contractors pleaded guilty to contract-fixing on housing authority renovation projects; Strissel was not implicated in those cases.
City officials have maintained that they are not harassing Strissel over his house, but are simply trying to enforce a city law that requires that houses be built at least six feet from the property line. They contend that Strissel misrepresented the set-back in the plans he made in his 1983 building application and that it was only after the city surveyed the property that officials realized his house was just over four feet from the property line.
Strissel says that his house is placed legally and that the boundary lines shown on some maps did not match other city documents. He testified today that his building permit was approved and inspectors approved the house when the work was finished in 1984.
But early in 1986, Strissel testified, city planning officials told him they required certified architectural plans of the house and property. Strissel said he argued this was too expensive and not required by city law.
He said William C. Holland, who was then the city's director of public works, told him at the time that the drawings were not needed, but that Strissel's house had been discussed at city staff meetings and "that it was harassment of me and my family."
City officials say that they contacted him in 1984 about the problem.
When city officials told him his property was too close to the line, Strissel said, he bought a two-foot-wide strip of land from his neighbor. However, city officials said that that was unsatisfactory, because it made the neighbor's house too close to the property line. They filed suit against Strissel in March.