Left to right, Maurice Lusby and Michael Phipps.

Prince Frederick, MD – In a move that some surmise is politically motivated, an attorney representing two longtime members of the Calvert County Planning Commission who were expelled by a majority of the county commissioners has distributed a press release announcing that they will continue to fight the decision. In early November 2016, Planning Commission Chairman Maurice Lusby and Vice Chairman Michael Phipps were suspended. Three county commissioners leveled charges of insubordination, misconduct, incompetence, fiscal irresponsibility and a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Law as justification for their actions. After holding a public hearing five days before Christmas the commissioners’ majority dismissed Lusby and informed Phipps he could only be reinstated as an alternate member of the Planning Commission.

“Citing numerous mistakes on the part of [Commissioner Tom] Hejl, [Commissioner Mike] Hart and [Commissioner Evan] Slaughenhoupt, Mr. Lusby and Mr. Phipps appealed their removals to the Circuit Court,” a press release from the law firm of Cumberland and Erly stated. “That matter was argued at the Circuit Court level and on Dec. 21, 2017 that court ruled against them. As there are other matters in that Circuit Court case that are not yet decided the appeal period from the Dec. 21, 2017 decision has not yet begun to run. Mr. Lusby and Mr. Phipps not only intend to appeal but have in fact filed with the Calvert County Circuit Court for permission to appeal early so that the matter may be decided as quickly as possible. While they have a great respect for the Circuit Judge who made that decision, they, along with their counsel, feel it is not in conformance with the law or the facts and is in error. Any suggestion that the intermediate Circuit Court decision vindicates commissioners Hejl, Hart and Slaughenhoupt is completely wrong and naïve.”

County Attorney John Norris labeled the Cumberland and Erly missive “political,” noting the law firm’s missive was released the week early primary voting begins. Norris said the commissioners told The Planning Commission not to go over budget in contracting an attorney to replace the panel’s longtime counsel, John Yacovelle. In fact, Norris, who counsels the county commissioners, was recommended as a replacement. Yacovelle, who began counseling the Planning Commission during the mid-1990s, became gravely ill in early 2016 and notified the members in March of that year that they should find a new attorney. Lusby testified during the December 2016 hearing that Yacovelle had never had a contract with the county. Yacovelle died in October 2016, a few weeks before Lusby and Phipps were suspended. Norris told TheBayNet.com that the county government asking for a reimbursement of $16,755 due to the unauthorized contracting of an attorney for the Planning Commission.

James P. Salmon, the judge who presided over the Dec. 2017 Circuit Court hearing, has not made a ruling on the compensation request. “The most important reason for establishing independent planning commissions in Maryland was to keep policies and donor influences out of planning and zoning influences,” the Cumberland and Erly missive stated. “In Calvert County, planning commission members can act independently as ‘citizen planners’ who listen to the issues, gather information and make well-informed, rational decisions and forward sound recommendations to the board of county commissioners. Any attempt by a majority of members of a board to intimidate, politically influence, interfere or therein remove a planning commissioner during the process while a commissioner is serving a duly appointed term, should not and cannot be tolerated.”

Calvert County Government was represented by attorney Kevin Karpinski at the Dec. 2017 hearing. Karpinski also served as the commissioners’ counsel at the Dec. 2016 public hearing. A call to Karpinski had not been returned as this story was being filed.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com