SPECIAL REPORT: A County Divided

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SPECIAL REPORT: A County Divided

4/16/2012

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By Andy Marquis

Tuesday’s passage of Resolution 2012-18 is the latest development in an increasingly tense situation in both the Charles County Board of Commissioners and Charles County Planning Commission that has divided the county. Here is a summary of some of the events that have led to a growing divide:

November 2010
Commissioner President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D: 1st) are elected to their respective positions promising transparency. The key to Robinson’s election, in a very close primary race, were his viewpoints on environmental issues. Commissioners Debra Davis (D: 2nd) and Bobby Rucci (D: 4th) also also newly elected. Commissioner Vice President Reuben Collins (D) and Kelly are the only people to have previously served on the Board of Commissioners prior to the 2010 elections.
January 2011
Courtney Edmonds, Esq., becomes the chairman of the Charles County Planning Commission. Edmonds had served on the planning commission for two years, he was appointed in January 2008.
March 2011
The 2012 Charles County Comprehensive Process begins. A series of public input sessions and design charettes are held during the summer and fall months. Many of those attending the design charettes and public meetings express their desire for growth to be limited. To date, the 2012 Comprehensive Plan is starting to look exactly the same as the 2006 Comprehensive Plan with most of the amendments to the plan being passed on a 4-3 vote in the planning commission.
November 2011
The Maryland Department of the Environment denies a permit for the Cross County Connector portion that runs over the Mattawoman Creek. Environmentalists hail the decision. The MDE permit denial is the first permit denial that ultimately leads to the death of the road’s completion.
At the following meeting of the Charles County Board of Commissioners, Kelly rejects calls from Davis to have the meeting held in closed session, saying there’s great public interest and she wants things done in an open, transparent atmosphere.
The Army Corps of Engineers later denies a permit for the project’s completion with prejudice, saying that expansions to MD-228 would be a far less environmentally destructive option. The ACOE permit denial ultimately kills the project.
January 2012
The planning commission, by voting to take no more action on the Priority Preservation Area element of the 2006 Comprehensive Plan, passes the Priority Preservation Area which is sent to the Charles County Board of Commissioners. The commission does kill the 2012 PPA element.
A costly trip to New York and the issue over commissioners driving county-owned vehicles take center stage at the January 31st meeting of the Board of Commissioners. Robinson calls for the commissioners to give up the county vehicles, a sentiment echoed by Kelly. Robinson’s motion is rejected in a 3-2 vote, with only Kelly voting with Robinson. A motion to only send Kelly to a bond rating agency trip to New York City was not seconded, but was proposed by Robinson. However, Collins and Rucci both say they will not attend the trip. Davis says her constituents had demanded her to go on the trip, a statement that baffled Robinson. Robinson says the majority of residents would probably feel different.
February 2012
Planning Commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds blasted the Balanced Growth Initiative during a meeting, accusing them of using scare tactics used by similar groups in Columbus, OH when people of color moved in.
At a February 27th meeting, several Balanced Grown Initiative supporters spoke on behalf of the organization and attacked Edmonds. The meeting, at times, got extremely heated. After Charles McPherson, a spokesperson for BGI and chief operating officer of Facchina Construction Company, spent over 10 minutes making remarks, Edmonds pushed the public comment period to the end of the meeting that lasted four hours in length.
During the meeting, Edmonds calls for a break to be held and Vice Chairman Joe Richard steps in to Edmonds’ seat and attempts to preside over the meeting. Planning Director Steve Ball refuses to answer Richards’ questions and waits for Edmonds to return to the meeting before continuing.
Supporters of “smart growth” blasted the Balanced Growth Initiative in the following weeks, saying they were about business as usual in Charles County.
Commissioner President Candice Quinn Kelly meets with the Charles County Chamber of Commerce in what she describes as an “ambush” set by former Commissioner President Murray Levy, who is a paid consultant with BGI. Commissioner Vice President Reuben Collins (D) and Commissioner Debra Davis (D: 2nd) are upset that they are not made aware of the meeting in advance. Robinson said he knew in advance and had no issue. Kelly claims Davis was told of the meeting in advance.
March 2012
Fallout from the February 27th planning commission meeting continued, as environmentalists attended a public forum held by the Charles County Board of Commissioners where they praised Edmonds and praised Commissioner Ken Robinson for standing with Edmonds.
April 2012
Several amendments from the 2006 Charles County Comprehensive Plan are passed by the Charles County Planning Commission to be included in the 2012 Comprehensive Plan. Opponents are furious over the moves, saying the will of the people and the will of the staff in the Department of Planning and Growth Management are being ignored.
Davis presents Resolution 2012-18, a resolution that strips Kelly of almost all of her powers and responsibilities, during the April 10th meeting of the Board of Commissioners. The motion passes with three votes, and fuels the fire of an already divided county.
Robinson attacks the motion, calling it an “ambush” and claims it was organized in a backroom deal. He also attacks the “irony” of the motion, which calls for more transparency, because it was presented at the last minute and was passed without any discussion.
During a town hall meeting, Davis refuses to field questions over the intent of her resolution due to media presence.
The Very Latest
As of Friday, April 13, 2012, Barbara Holtz had no comment about the legalities of Resolution 2012-18. Charles County Public Information Officer Crystal Hunt said, “Barbara Holtz is still reviewing the document from a legal perspective. She has no comment at this time.”
A work session will be held during Tuesday’s meeting of the Charles County Board of Commissioners on the implications of Resolution 2012-18.
Kelly responded to questions from the public on her Facebook page on Friday.
“The attempt recently to strip me of authority as President of the Charles County Commissioners would severely impede the governance of the county and result in problems in running the day-to-day operations of county government,” Kelly said.  “Leadership is what is needed in Charles County at this time. I will continue to work on behalf of the citizens who elected me.”
“There are a number of areas where express authority is given to the President of the County Commission in County Code,” Kelly said in response to a question on her Facebook page.  “In addition, State Law prescribes certain responsibilities as well. Past Boards operated without any formal procedures. It was one of our first actions to take steps to establish formal procedures. I was very proud of this action as it ensures full transparency for the Board and the public concerning how we would operate. You may recall that after several public meetings the Board adopted on September 7, 2011 the Protocol and Etiquette Manual by which we operate. The manual and our agreement (documented by formal minutes) rely on the Goals and Objectives established by the Board and approved by the Board. In essence all Commissioners are required to work to the Goals and Objectives along with staff. In addition, we have agreements with outside consultants who are retained to assist us in meeting certain Goals and Objectives. Those agreements spell out the role of the consultant and the role of the Commissioners to facilitate, cooperate and respond to requests for meetings, etc. Also, Commissioners hold positions on various boards and commissions where we must cast votes and take action. It is always understood that if we speak for the Board that we do so in a manner that is consistent with our Goals and Objectives. I have been working extensively on Transportation Issues and in so doing I am working to the letter of the contract that we have with G.S. Proctor and our Goals and Objectives. To quote Senator Mac Middleton, "we have accomplished more in one year than was accomplished in the last 30". I am very proud, on behalf of our Board, of that compliment! I will post the Protocol Manual and a full explanation on how the Agenda is handled shortly.
“One of the challenges of a Commissioner form of government is that you have your executive and legislative branches of government combined in one. While there is equality among Commissioners the position of the elected President comes with a full time requirement and an implied expectation by the voters that I will work with staff on the day-to-day operations. Failure to do so would result in unnecessary delays and disruption in the delivery of services. I pride myself on fully reading and thoroughly considering and researching every issue that I am faced with. I take the Office of the President very seriously and believe it deserves an intelligent and focused approach. I enjoy meeting with our citizens individually and at my Public Meetings. I hope you will agree that when you meet with me I am prepared and I will know the issues and facts.”
As of Friday night, repeated calls to Rucci have not been returned.

TheBayNet's Dick Myers and Marty Madden contributed to this report.



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