- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County commissioners adopted a “code of civility” Tuesday, enjoining members of county boards and committees, as well as the public, to be polite and respectful during public meetings.
“I think this is a commitment by the board of county commissioners to explain our position in terms of what we perceive to be a standard that is necessary. It’s not addressing any particular body. We deem it necessary to reaffirm our commitment to maintaining order and civility in all public meetings,” Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) said of the unanimous vote.
But commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said in a later interview that while the code was not formally aimed at any particular organization, the Charles County Planning Commission, the conduct of which she deemed a “state[wide] embarrassment,” could stand to be more cordial.
A majority of planning commission members have clashed with commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds, Department of Planning and Growth Management staff and the commission’s attorney adviser during a contentious update of the Charles County Comprehensive Plan, the county’s chief planning document. A land use map mandated by the Maryland “septic bill” also has stoked controversy on the board.
“The impetus behind [the code], I don’t know what everyone else thinks, I can only speak for me, personally, I was very happy to see that move forward because I think there’s no question that our planning commission, there are major issues associated with their deliberations and the outcomes of those deliberations,” Kelly said. “In my opinion … we have not done enough to ensure that they’re being objective, and I think the most recent decision on the tier maps clearly indicates they have gone rogue.”
Last month, a 4-2 planning commission vote endorsed a tier map presented by the Balanced Growth Initiative, a “property rights” group, rejecting one proposed by county staff. The map is due to state agencies by the end of the year under this year’s Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act, informally dubbed the “septic bill.” The BGI proposal removes about 65,000 acres of land from a conservation tier, as suggested by county staff, and designates those areas for development with either sewer or septic systems.
Lou Grasso, a member of the planning commission majority, shot back that the county commissioners, who also have had public conflicts, are in greater need of reining in than the planning commission. Kelly considered it a measure of the planning commission’s “dysfunction” that it disregarded advice from county staff and its attorney, but Grasso blamed Edmonds, Assistant Charles County Attorney Elizabeth Theobalds and Planning Director Peter Aluotto for ignoring instructions from the majority.
“We all thought that somebody had to step in and control the way that meetings were conducted. It seemed to us that we spent a great deal of time dealing with inane judgments on the part of the chair, backed up by the assistant county attorney,” Grasso said.
Edmonds did not return a call seeking comment Wednesday.
Barbara Talcott of La Plata, a frequent commenter at county commissioner and planning commission meetings, saw more value in the code for officials than members of the public.
Unless a commenter is clearly out of line, no one should be policing citizens’ speech, she said.
“Some people are just, in public, they’re upset, and sometimes they just talk loud. It’s hard to tell whether somebody’s [crossed a line] unless they use foul language or is threatening — you can tell that that’s not civil,” she said.
The county commissioners also adopted an “oath of office” for members of appointed boards, including the planning commission, that asks them to swear to obey all laws and comply with the civility code. Copies of the civility code will be posted in public buildings.