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Two commissioners are angry about a land use meeting between Charles County commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) and six members of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce executive board, while the other two said they were not particularly concerned.

Commissioners Reuben B. Collins II (D) and Debra M. Davis (D) said they were distressed because Kelly had not informed them of the Feb. 28 meeting and because she was reported to have represented policy positions, particularly about land use, as the opinion of the board without asking other members.

Kelly strongly supports concentrating development in urban areas, in part to bolster the county’s requests for state funding for a light rail line linking White Plains and Waldorf with the Branch Avenue Metro station in Prince George’s County. The board of commissioners has unanimously endorsed the light rail plan, but not a broader land use strategy.

A revision of the Charles County Comprehensive Plan, the county’s chief zoning document, is ongoing.

All commissioners routinely meet with community groups alone, and the board’s protocol manual expressly gives her authority, as president, to speak for the board on controversial issues, Kelly said.

That authority doesn’t extend to deciding, on her own, what the board’s position is, Davis said.

“Commissioner Kelly thinks she’s the county [executive] and we’re, just, I don’t know. Yes, we have a board form of government. I’ve been shouting that from the rooftops since we first took office. This is not the [full] extent of Commissioner Kelly’s meetings representing herself as representing the board,” Davis said. “She’s not the only voice of the county commissioners. If she’s going to represent the board, she has to consider what the board wants. Never once has she called the board and said, ‘This is what I want. What do you want?’”

Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) said he was not aware of the meeting until Kelly called him, during the meeting, to let him know. But “I’m not aware of a lot of meetings [that] other commissioners go to.”

Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said he had known in advance and was unconcerned.

“That’s the whole thing. I don’t consider it to be anything out of the ordinary. All of us get invitations to speak at various events. I don’t know what the other commissioners are doing most of the time,” Robinson said.

Contentious encounter

Kelly, accompanied by acting Economic Development Director Gene Lauer, county spokeswoman Crystal Hunt and former commissioner Gary V. Hodge, met with chamber President Carlos Montague, Treasurer Murray Levy and four other chamber officials, people who attended say. Hodge was there as a private consultant hired by county government to advise it on transportation issues.

By most accounts, Kelly’s informal encounter with the executive board was contentious, with Levy, very early in the discussion, challenging Kelly’s authority to represent the board of commissioners. By all accounts, Kelly immediately called three fellow board members on her cellphone — Collins, Robinson and Rucci — to get what she told chamber officials was permission to proceed. She skipped Davis, she said Wednesday, because Davis already knew about the meeting.

Levy dominated the questioning, Kelly and Hodge said, with his questions focusing on the comprehensive plan revision and a proposal for a priority preservation area, which would restrict land development in three broad swaths of rural Charles County.

Levy, a former state delegate and county commissioners’ president, is now a paid consultant for the Balanced Growth Initiative, a group opposing building restrictions. The group has been informally endorsed by chamber leaders.

“I, in particular, wanted to learn about the land use plan and the process: How did it get to where it is? Nobody on the planning commission or the board of commissioners seems to have made any decision about it. Now we have this highly volatile situation. She spoke for the commissioners? What was the commissioners’ position? What was her position?” Levy said during a Tuesday interview.

Among the top concerns of the chamber are the priority preservation area and a proposal to introduce a new transferable development rights program, where builders would pay to preserve land in one part of the county in order to build elsewhere, said Craig Renner, chamber president-elect and spokesman for The St. Charles Cos. in Waldorf.

He particularly was concerned about the potential for TDR requirements for commercial construction, he said.

The chamber also challenged the county’s focus on light rail, as “mass transit, by all accounts, is a long-term project.” In the meantime, the chamber wants a greater focus on roads and commuter buses in county transportation planning, Renner said.

Kelly said the meeting was more like an ambush than a discussion and that she had felt “kind of under attack by Levy,” while the other executive board members were “gentlemen.”

“When I arrived, long story short, it felt somewhat like a setup. [Kelly’s presentation about light rail] was not particularly well-received, but it wasn’t until the very end of the meeting that Murray Levy identified himself as being a paid consultant for BGI. After that, it was a little more clear what was going on,” Kelly said.

Montague said he and other board members were dissatisfied with Kelly’s presentation because they did not feel Kelly was answering their questions about the priority preservation area.

“It’s not a personal attack. It’s not an attack against local government or any of the officials. We’re looking for the information and we’re just not getting it. It just seems like when we ask challenging questions, people think it is an attack and it’s not. It’s simply a search for answers,” Montague said.

Leaving the chamber?

At a March 6 public forum, Charles McPherson, an “unofficial spokesman” for BGI, accused Kelly of making “threats” against the chamber, specifically that she would induce organizations to cancel their memberships.

McPherson, chief operating officer of Facchina Construction Co. in La Plata, was not at the meeting, but said he learned of the supposed threat from three unnamed people, whom he would not name, who attended the meeting.

During a Monday interview, Kelly vehemently denied mentioning cancellations to Montague at any time.

Montague said Tuesday that the conversation McPherson alluded to took place not at the meeting, but during a private phone call between Montague and Kelly the next day. During that conversation, Kelly had “not directly” mentioned membership withdrawal, but said that she felt she had been mistreated at the meeting by hostile BGI supporters.

Montague said he interpreted her complaint as a “very veiled threat” against memberships.

In a separate interview Wednesday, Kelly said that withdrawing from the chamber might be the right move for her own business, a La Plata clothing store, and for Maredith Management, the Waldorf-based property management company she once owned. It might in fact seem “cowardly” for her to stay after the way she was treated at the meeting, she said, but she stressed that she had no influence over Charles County government’s membership and would not seek to alter its status.

“But with regard to Candy Clark Boutique and I can’t speak for Maredith Management, but I would expect that my children [the current owners] will value my opinion: I will tell you I absolutely feel anybody who is part of an organization that was disrespected the way I was disrespected by the treasurer [Levy] would almost look foolish and irresponsible not to say, ‘I don’t know if I can continue,’” she said. “If they can treat me like that, the president of the board of county commissioners, imagine how they treat a regular member.”

Maredith Management was named the chamber’s Small Business of the Year at a banquet in January.

emitrano@somdnews.com