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Commissioners hire independent attorney to investigate

By ERICA MITRANOStaff writer

The Charles County commissioners authorized the hiring of an independent attorney Tuesday to investigate an accusation by Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) that the commissioners’ president told a staff member to seek his 2010 tax form from the county government personnel office.

Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) might have committed a “criminal” act, Collins said, because she “requested and received copies of documents that are a part of my personnel file, including but not limited to copies of my 2010 W-2 forms, without my consent. Evidence suggests the commissioners’ president directed a subordinate employee to request this information,” Collins said.

“Any documentation on that?” asked Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D).

“As I stated, there’s credible evidence. Part of the investigation could possibly include documentation,” Collins answered.

“Strong allegations,” Rucci replied, but he joined Collins and Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) in approving the investigation.

Kelly denied the accusation and said more information would be forthcoming.

“Although I want to stay very much above the fray, it’s very easy for people to use this dais and [these] seats for grandstanding, political posturing and political character assassination,” she said. “Let me just say this: I cannot discuss conversations I have had with internal auditors about how mileage and vehicle usage have been handled for the four years prior to my coming into office … nor can I discuss what has transpired since coming into office.”

Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) asked whether the allegation, even if true, would be a crime.

“As elected officials I was under the impression W-2 forms are public knowledge and could be requested by any citizen. I’m confused as how this could be criminal,” he said.

Kelly may sue county

Procedural confusion marred the first Charles County commissioners meeting after the board president was stripped of most of her powers, as commissioners, staff members and the county attorney wrangled with the implications of last week’s resolution.

During a Tuesday work session to address the resolution, which removed President Kelly’s authority to set agendas, sign documents on behalf of the board or approve anything costing the county money, County Attorney Barbara L. Holtz listed ambiguities and potential legal pitfalls in the measure.

She asked for a week to come up with suggestions for fixing them.

Among her concerns was the use of the phrase “full board” in the resolution, which implies that the board must act unanimously on procedural matters and legislation. The wording prevented the board from adopting next week’s agenda without a unanimous vote, prompting Davis to try to amend the resolution, which she wrote and introduced, so that only a majority vote would be necessary.

Holtz replied that it would be “very unusual to modify a resolution with a motion and vote,” and ultimately the agenda was approved by all five members instead.

Kelly has drafted a legal complaint against Charles County government challenging a resolution stripping her of many of her powers, Holtz said.

The complaint has not been filed, but Holtz received a “courtesy copy” before a Tuesday afternoon work session to review last Tuesday’s resolution, she said. A copy was not immediately available, but Kelly is the plaintiff and commissioners’ Clerk Denise Ferguson and the board of commissioners are the defendants, Holtz said.

Confusion reignsBecause Kelly’s fiscal authority was revoked, the board also had to approve expenditures and grant applications, including one for less than $500, which used to be handled administratively.

“In your opinion, the county government is functioning properly,” Davis said, after County Administrator Rebecca Bridgett explained that budget transfers between $15,001 and $35,000 now will have to be approved by the board, not by Kelly.

“The county government is functioning,” Bridgett replied.

The resolution’s language could also affect the citizens’ liaison office, which works with residents to resolve bureaucratic issues, because its emails all might be subject to unanimous board approval, Holtz said.

The procedural morass prompted Robinson, who with Kelly voted against the resolution, to complain that it was ill-considered.

“I would expect a lot more detail to have gone into it. It kind of disappointed me. It was thrown out there and now let’s try to get it right. That’s all I have to say,” he said.

The confusion is the result of the measure’s “extraordinary” nature, Collins.

“That might be a fair evaluation if you were going through the actual process. This was an extraordinary document,” and expecting perfection from “every specific item is unrealistic. This was an extraordinary event, no doubt about that, and we’re going through this now to make it a document that has more clarity,” he said.

Decorum prevailed overall, but barbs were occasionally traded.

“Oh my goodness, Commissioner Davis, I do hate to bring this up, but it’s common knowledge that the citizens’ liaison sends out emails on behalf of the board without the commissioners having reviewed them in advance. I fully appreciate that, but I think it’s somewhat disingenuous,” Kelly said, referring to Davis’ expressed concern about Kelly signing documents on her own.

Kelly also blasted as “inflammatory” an accusation by Collins accusing her of abusing her authority as president. She stated emphatically that she never had signed anything without authorization, prompting Collins to say he had never said she abused that power.

Observers cheered for Kelly occasionally throughout the meeting; others cheered for Davis.