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The everyday workings of Charles County government will be derailed by new rules stripping the president of the county commissioners of much of her power, President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) has said.
“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. Leadership is what is needed in Charles County at this time. I will continue to work on behalf of the citizens who elected me,” she wrote in an email Thursday afternoon.
She declined to answer questions.
A resolution, submitted late Tuesday afternoon at the commissioners’ regularly scheduled meeting by Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D), removed Kelly’s authority to set meeting agendas on her own, make government decisions having any fiscal impact, or speak, testify or correspond on behalf of the commissioners without the approval of the “full board.” It also removed any other power previously delegated to the president by the board.
The resolution passed 3-2, with votes by Davis and commissioners Reuben B. Collins II (D) and Bobby Rucci (D). Kelly remains responsible for running board meetings.
Davis has been a consistent critic of Kelly, complaining frequently that Kelly was abusing her power as president. The preamble of the resolution, which Davis wrote, asserted that “the leadership of our County is neither efficient nor transparent if all commissioners do not have an active role in policy making decisions” and “we deem it essential to reassure the citizens of our County that we will honor the elected Commissioner form of government, a government that earns the respect and pride of our citizens and is free of intimidation.”
The resolution’s preamble also asserts that “there have been credible allegations of past misrepresentations of positions taken and decisions made by the Board.”
Neither Davis nor Kelly returned to the meeting after a recess Tuesday following the vote, and Collins, as board vice president, took over the meeting. Collins and Robinson said they did not know where their colleagues were. Davis said Thursday that she was at a previously scheduled appointment.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) shared Kelly’s concerns about the measure’s effect on county government.
Among his objections was a provision requiring the board of commissioners to set the agenda collaboratively two weeks in advance, a process he anticipated would “be a nightmare.” It was unnecessary in any event, he said, because Kelly had invited commissioners to meetings with staff where she set the agenda.
Davis released a written statement Thursday morning commending Collins and Rucci, and promising that the operations of county government would not be disrupted by the change.
“I stand behind the actions taken by a majority of the [Board] of Commissioners and commend Commissioners Rucci and Collins for having the guts to stand up for what they believe is right. The actions taken in [the] simplest explanation was to take back the authority that the Board had previously delegated to the Commission President,” she wrote.
No law violation, supporters say
The resolution’s three supporters said they complied with the Maryland Open Meetings Act during the run-up to the motion.
Davis said she spoke individually with Collins and Rucci, but the three did not confer together at the same time. The Open Meetings Act prohibits private meetings between three or more commissioners.
“I’ve heard rumblings of there being something about the Open Meetings Act. We’re too smart for that. There were never ever any meetings of three commissioners together,” Davis said.
For his part, Collins declined to comment in detail about the resolution because he thought Kelly might be consulting with an attorney. He stated emphatically that there was no violation of state open meetings law because the resolution’s supporters had not met as a group.
“We certainly discussed these concerns. Commissioner Davis had conversations with Commissioner Rucci as well. We never met collectively. There was never any collective affirmation of anything done, never anything that could suggest that this was done in a manner that would be a violation of the open meetings act,” Collins said.
Stressing that he is not an attorney, Robinson nonetheless challenged the legality of the maneuver.
It blindsided him and Kelly and “it was definitely a shock,” he said.
“My feeling is this resolution if legal — and I really doubt that it is — would severely impede the governance of the county. I find it almost laughable that it was promoted as aiding transparency to government operations when it was obvious that the way it was introduced was hardly transparent. I felt it was an ambush and definitely feel that there was collusion between the three commissioners,” he said.
Through the county spokeswoman, County Attorney Barbara L. Holtz declined to comment.
“The latest information I’ve received from Barbara is that she is still conducting her legal review of that document so she doesn’t have any comment at this time,” Crystal Hunt said in a voicemail message Thursday. Charles County Code gives the commissioners’ president certain emergency powers but doesn’t address her role in “procedural matters,” Hunt said, citing Holtz and commissioners’ Clerk Denise Ferguson.
Concerns about Kelly’s meetings
In a written statement released Thursday afternoon, Rucci stated that he supported the resolution because he was dismayed that Kelly had reportedly “occasionally misrepresented the positions of the full board to other state and local groups, organizations and government bodies without first having consulted with her fellow Commissioners.”
In February, Kelly addressed the executive board of the Charles County Chamber of Commerce and reportedly urged the organization to support land use policies that had not been endorsed by the full board. She also testified in Annapolis in favor of a ban on most new septic systems, identifying herself as commissioners’ president, when the board had not taken a position on the bill.
Rucci declined to specify which organizations or incidents he referred to in his letter.
Collins said the resolution stemmed from long-standing concerns and “discussions about the lack of a process, of operating as a board,” but declined to say if he knew anything about Davis’ resolution, which was never discussed in a public meeting, before it was introduced.