- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A mediation process intended to reconcile feuding Charles County commissioners has been suspended after a single session, board members said this week.
At an informal Waldorf meeting with constituents Monday, Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) said, “That’s been tabled,” when asked about it.
Michael Lucchesi of Waldorf asked what would be done to curb the factionalism he perceived on the board. Votes are often split 3-2 with Commissioners Collins, Debra M. Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) in the majority.
“What’s interesting is last year, what’s interesting is the same thing applied as well: 3-2, 3-2. I didn’t hear you make comments then,” Collins replied. Earlier in the commissioners’ term, Rucci often voted with commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D).
Tensions on the board exploded in April, when Collins, Davis and Rucci passed a resolution stripping Kelly of all powers she had as board president except to preside over meetings.
Kelly called the move illegal and threatened to sue. Two weeks later, the board voted to enter mediation. During the same meeting, members unanimously restored Kelly’s routine fiscal powers, but other provisions of the resolution, including restrictions on Kelly’s public speech, remain in effect and contested.
Kelly insisted on taking notes during the first session, alarming colleagues concerned about her threatened lawsuit, Davis said.
“The spirit of conciliation was not there. And frankly there were so many things that we couldn’t discuss because of pending litigation that I didn’t feel it was useful. I can’t speak for the other commissioners,” Davis said.
But Kelly said she formally withdrew the threat to sue in a letter to County Attorney Barbara L. Holtz before a May 30 visit to bond raters in New York City. She said she didn’t want the matter to impact the county’s rating.
The second mediation session, to be held July 9, was canceled shortly beforehand, something Davis attributed at the time to scheduling conflicts. But it was never rescheduled, commissioners said this week. The vote was taken in closed session, but Kelly and Robinson both said they voted to continue the process.
Robinson said relations between commissioners have improved since spring, possibly because of infrequent summer meetings.
“I don’t think tensions are as high as they were back in April. I would not say we’re having Kumbaya moments. In all honesty we have not met that frequently in the past few months. It’s been a relatively slow summer and there have not been too many controversial issues,” he said.
Kelly’s contention that parts of the resolution reducing her powers were “patently unenforceable and illegal” was “supposed to be addressed through the mediation process. I can’t explain why [it was suspended]. I think everyone would agree that there are issues,” she said.
The county signed a contract and still must pay the mediation company, Kelly said. Holtz is preparing an opinion about whether the remaining services can be transferred to another county use.
County documents describe agreeing to a two-hour meeting followed by an eight-hour mediation session at a total cost of $4,000. The mediation company, JAMS Arbitration, Mediation and ADR Services of Greenbelt, also charges a $275 “service fee” and would require no more than two hours of preparation at a cost of $400 per hour, county memos state.
The mediator was retired Prince George’s Circuit Court judge William D. Missouri.