- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A La Plata farmer is waiting for the resolution of a parliamentary dispute on the Charles County Planning Commission so he can develop three 10-acre lots on his property.
At the Nov. 19 commission meeting, a memo from County Attorney Barbara Holtz declared a 4-2 vote from the Nov. 5 meeting to be invalid. The vote, which was to reconsider a Sept. 24 vote to not waive road improvement requirements at Fisher Farm on Penns Hill Road, outside of La Plata, was conducted with member Joe Tieger absent from the meeting.
Fisher Farm owner Ed Kramer said he wanted the road requirement waived because the project would be too expensive for him to undertake otherwise.
In the memo, Holtz wrote that the vote required five members to be in favor of reconsideration, and only four were.
The five votes represent two-thirds of the seven-member commission, whereas four votes did not, Holtz stated in the memo.
At the Nov. 5 meeting, the members who were present argued that, as there were only six present, the four who voted in favor of reconsideration constituted the necessary two-thirds majority.
Deputy County Attorney Elizabeth Theobalds dissented, saying that five votes was the necessary number.
Commission Vice Chairman Joe Richard then asked Theobalds and Holtz to present a legal explanation of the vote at the Nov. 19 meeting.
Theobalds was not present at the Nov. 19 meeting and did not have the explanation Monday night; she said she had not yet spoken with a parliamentarian regarding the issue, as she had intended to. Theobalds then said she hoped to have the explanation finished by close of business Wednesday.
Kramer said he is apprehensive about the correct course of action to take and that he fears that Theobalds and Holtz will not produce the opinion.
“My read is that it was two-thirds of quorum. With that, I think the assistant county attorney read more into the vote than what was actually there,” Kramer said. “It seems that someone should have said that since this vote was so critical, it should have just been postponed. But I believe that [Theobalds], seeing the situation develop, had an obligation to say ‘stop,’ and to postpone the vote until all members were present before the vote actually happened. I wouldn’t have lost my opportunity for a reconsideration. But since the vote went forward, I burnt that particular match.”
Kramer is unsure about what course of action to take, as far as appealing the decision goes.
Currently, he plans to wait until the holiday season has passed before looking into the matter more in-depth, and said he “reserves the right to see an attorney to help consider the options.”
“[Theobalds] was very clear last night in saying that she wishes to look forward to the future when looking at the language of the rule, and that’s got merit, but without actually saying it, she also said she wouldn’t reconsider the past. That’s my inference,” Kramer said. “I have to carefully weigh my options here on whether or not to stay quiet or to charge in.”
Theobalds responded in a phone interview by saying she found that through her reading, keeping to five votes as the standard for approval is necessary for maintaining consistency, even if not all group members are present at the time.
“When you look at anything with a quorum and especially with small organizations, they shouldn’t be flip-flopping,” Theobalds said. “Particularly in land use, you need consistency. All the reading I’ve done leans toward the need for inclusion of all and consistency in voting numbers.”
Further, Theobalds said, the commission has a history of acting autonomously of Planning and Growth Management staff members present and she had not noted that all were not present until the vote was under way.
“I can’t say that I was distracted because, historically, they take action in this way,” Theobalds said. “The discussion moved toward reconsideration, and then when the vote was on the floor and in process I noticed that all members were not present. Historically, I haven’t been afforded that opportunity [to stop proceedings].”
Theobalds also noted that Robert’s Rules of Order would not have allowed for a second reconsideration of the vote on Fisher Farm.