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Simmering tensions among the Charles County commissioners exploded April 10, when a one-vote majority voted to strip board President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) of administrative and other powers, some of which were restored soon after.

Commissioners Reuben B. Collins II (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) joined Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D), the author of Resolution 2012-18, in revoking all powers previously delegated to the board president, including approving routine expenditures, setting meeting agendas and corresponding on the board’s behalf. In later statements, Collins and Davis said they acted because they thought Kelly was abusing her powers.

Kelly threatened to sue to reverse the surprise action, aspects of which she contended were illegal. She backed down after the board reversed some of the changes with new legislation April 24.

Resolution 2012-21 restored some financial authority to Kelly and county department heads. It also reversed a provision requiring “full board” approval for any action after County Attorney Barbara L. Holtz opined that it would require a unanimous vote to conduct any business, including agenda approvals.

Also on April 24, the board agreed to enter mediation to resolve conflicts between members. The commissioners later hired retired Prince George’s Circuit Court Judge William D. Missouri through JAMS Arbitration, Mediation and ADR Services of Greenbelt. Despite spending more than $4,000 for the service, the board cancelled mediation after one session, which Davis (D) attributed to concerns spurred by Kelly’s note-taking at the first session. The vote to cancel mediation was taken in private, but Kelly and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said they voted to attend the second session, scheduled for July 9.

Erica Mitrano

Administrator Bridgett fired

A 3-2 vote likely also resulted in the firing of County Administrator Rebecca Bridgett, a move that prompted a citizens’ protest. Bridgett hired an attorney, former County Attorney Roger Fink, who alleged that county officials broke Bridgett’s contract by speaking to media the day of the vote instead of giving her two weeks’ notice and a chance to resign.

The June 26 vote was taken in private, but commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) praised Bridgett publicly in the weeks following, while the other three board members said little.

Bridgett bounced back quickly, starting work less than three weeks later as acting human resources director for the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, a temporary post.

Deputy County Administrator Roy E. Hancock was named acting county administrator. Hancock will retire Dec. 31, ending a four-decade career with Charles County government. Two weeks before Hancock’s departure, Mark Belton, former county administrator of Page County, Va., took over as Charles County administrator. County government is searching for a new deputy administrator.

Erica Mitrano

Comprehensive plan battles make for hot 2012

The development of the 2012 Comprehensive Plan became a hotly contested battle in 2012.

The Charles County Planning Commission rejected on a 3-3 vote Feb. 13 pursuing additional studies to investigate economic, environmental and other data to inform the county’s comprehensive plan.

Comments Commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds made about the Balanced Growth Initiative, a group opposing restrictions to development in rural areas landed Edmonds in hot water with the group, causing BGI members to criticize him at a Feb. 27 meeting. Edmonds said the group used scare tactics similar to those of opponents of desegregation in Columbus, Ohio, during the 1970s.

Commission meetings have been the site of vocal disagreements throughout 2012, with commission Vice Chairman Joe Richard and members Lou Grasso, Bob Mitchell and Joan Jones pushing for status quo land use policies, while Edmonds and commission members Joe Tieger and Steve Bunker want more environmental protection and additional studies in the comprehensive plan, which controls county land use and must be updated every six years.

Disputes over policies and commission procedure led some members to request a parliamentarian to handle procedural rules, which county planning staff said it could not afford.

The commission decided to keep several policies from the 2006 plan, including the cross-county connector that received permit denials from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of the Environment, in the 2012 comprehensive plan on 4-3 votes. The moves sparked outrage from some participants in the plan update process who felt that the commission ignored comments during the comprehensive plan process, refused to include additional information and set the plan on a wrong trajectory. BGI members and supporters of the 2006 plan lauded the commission’s decisions.

Debate over a septic tier map made things lively in September, as farmers showed up to a Sept. 24 hearing on the county’s septic tier map in style. The farmers parked tractors in the parking lot of the county government building to show their opposition to the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act, also dubbed the “septic bill,” requiring each county to designate growth and preservation areas. BGI presented its own septic tier map to counter a tier map from county planning staff.

The meeting was lively in more ways than one. Comments from Tieger about the First Amendment resulted in a vocal tirade from Richard about not being lectured on the First Amendment. At the next meeting, commission members voted 4-2 to censure Edmonds.

In November, the commission voted 4-2 to send the BGI tier map to the county commissioners, which planning staff said did not meet the intent of the septic bill. The commission voted 5-2 later that month to send the draft comprehensive plan, whose land use matches the BGI tier map approved by the commission, to state agencies for their review. Public meetings on the draft are expected to continue in January.

Paul Warner

Walmart annexation drags on

The Walmart Supercenter annexation and a referendum petition to bring the annexation to a town election was one of the biggest talking points in the town of La Plata. Daniel Mears, the town manager, verified Feb. 28 that the petition had 1,323 signatures, enough for the town to hold a vote on the matter. Faison Capital Development, the developer of the annexation project, wanted to put a Walmart Supercenter and office buildings on 28 acres, and several other parties sued the town for approving the petition they alleged had irregularities and violated state law.

Judge James L. Lombardi ruled on May 3 that the petition “had to fail” because Mears used a set of procedures he drafted to verify the signatures, which Lombardi said he did not have the authority to do. The town appealed the ruling June 4 to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, citing that it was Mears’ administrative powers that permitted him to draft the procedures. In September, the Maryland Court of Appeals certified that it would hear the case directly rather than have the case go first through the intermediate court. Maryland’s highest court will likely hear the case in March.

Paul Warner

Ballot questions dominate election news

On the state level, it was a bevy of ballot measures more than the candidates seeking public office which defined the Nov. 6 election, when Maryland voters made history by becoming the first in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote.

Similar measures had appeared on ballots in 32 states since 1998 but failed every time. Voters in Maine and Washington also supported marriage equality on Election Night, bringing the total number of jurisdictions nationwide to have legalized same-sex marriage to 10 — six states and the District of Columbia had already done so either legislatively or judicially.

State voters also supported a new law providing in-state college tuition rates to some undocumented immigrants, upheld the new congressional redistricting map enacted by the state legislature and signed off on a proposal to legalize table games and build a new Las Vegas-style casino in Prince George’s County, likely to be located at National Harbor in Oxon Hill.

In Southern Maryland, U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md., 5th) again breezed to re-election despite a challenge from Del. Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Calvert, St. Mary’s), one of the more experienced candidates the region’s Republicans could hope to field.

Hoyer collected 69 percent of the vote and majorities in each of the district’s four counties en route to his 17th term in Congress. O’Donnell claimed 28 percent of the vote, down from the 35 percent Charles Lollar received in his 2010 bid against Hoyer and just the fourth-best showing against Hoyer in the last decade.

Democrats in Charles County enjoy a 2-to-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans, so it was not a surprise that President Obama carried the county with 65 percent of the vote compared to 34 percent for GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

Jeff Newman

Blue Crabs disappointed again

Though their season ended in an all-too-familiar and bitter fashion, 2012 was undoubtedly another successful year for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, who made the postseason for the fourth straight season following a second-half surge which catapulted them from worst to first in the Liberty Division.

The Blue Crabs came into the season with high expectations, but early-season injuries took their toll as the club finished the first half with a franchise-worst 30-40 record. But the Blue Crabs rebounded in the second-half to go 39-31 and claim the second-half division crown.

They were sparked in part by All-Star centerfielder Jeremy Owens, who cut down on his trademark for-the-fences swing in moving to the leadoff spot, but still led the team with 22 homers and 151 strikeouts.

But for the third-straight postseason, the Blue Crabs were knocked out in the Liberty Division Championship Series, this time falling one win short of a shot at the Atlantic League championship in a 5-4 loss Sept. 30 at Long Island.

Along the way the Blue Crabs welcomed their 1-millionth fan to Regency Furniture Stadium and announced that they would host the 2013 Atlantic League All-Star Game on July 10.

Crustacean Nation also welcomed home pitcher Daryl Thompson, a Hughesville native and 2003 La Plata High School graduate who signed with the Blue Crabs in July following stints with the Cincinnati Reds in 2008 and 2011. He made seven starts during the regular season, emerging as one of the club’s best pitchers with a 2-2 record and a 2.93 ERA.


Rail Trail gets funds, attention

2012 marked a year of progress for the Indian Head Rail Trail, which received $130,000 in grants and garnered outside attention.

In May, the trail was evaluated by a team of eight volunteers from the nonprofit Urban Land Institute’s Technical Assistance Panels program. The group concluded that the trail could most benefit from interconnectivity with the county’s other major nodes of development, attracting new business to the town, better marketing and more precise signage. The visit was perceived by both town and county officials as a success and a clear indicator of moves to make while going forward.

The town of Indian Head is also currently working toward the completion of a $120,000 connector trail, along with a $250,000 trailhead plaza to be named after former state Sen. John Thomas Parran at the Village Green. In July, the town received a $90,000 grant for the plaza from the Southern Maryland Heritage Area Consortium, along with $40,000 for the trail from the Maryland Bikeways program at the Maryland Department of Transportation in August, and another $40,000 for the trail from the Maryland State Highway Administration through the federal Recreational Trails Program.

Construction has not yet begun on either project. The Indian Head Economic Development Commission is raising funds for the $70,000 needed in matching funds for the plaza grant, and the town will match the remaining $40,000 in necessary funds for the trail.

“It’s been an unbelievably successful year for the Indian Head Rail Trail,” said Tom Roland, chief of parks and grounds for the Charles County Department of Public Works. “The amenities to the trail have been a solid addition. We estimate we had over 100,000 visitors in 2012. It’s been one of the region’s top tourism attractions.”


Hospice house opens

Hospice of Charles County also saw the realization of what former Hospice House board president Susan Lawrence called a “30-year-long dream” when the group held a ribbon cutting for its new facility off Davis Road in Waldorf in May. At the end of November, the facility admitted its first patient.

The building’s patient floor holds 10 beds. Originally, Lawrence said, the cost of the building was projected to be $5 million. The first phase of construction, which included outfitting the building with the proper equipment, cost $3 million and Lawrence said the hospice hoped to use the remaining $2 million for funding for patients whose families could not afford care.

Since opening and beginning to admit patients, hospice president Nancy Bowling said the group’s mission of providing care and comfort for patients and families alike has been seen time and again.

“It’s been beyond our belief. ... We were nervous at first, but we have folks who have been here for years with us at the outpatient care level, and they’ve really stepped up and helped out,” Bowling said. “We’re there for both the patient and the family. It’s a different kind of care that we provide here. We want the family to be as comfortable as the patient. This is their home. We’re here to serve them.”

The facility has not yet had a waiting list, but anticipates a greater demand as the word gets out that they are open and accepting patients.


Celebrating La Plata’s rebirth

La Plata remembered the 10th anniversary of the tornado that ripped through the town April 28, 2002. Town residents celebrated how the town came together and the rebuilding effort through a Memory Lane exhibit showing photos of the aftermath of the storm and after rebuilding efforts.

The town also commemorated the rebirth of the town on the anniversary date with an attempt at breaking the Guinness World Record for number of people doing the “Twist” simultaneously. Celebrate La Plata, which occurred the same day, also remembered how the town came together and rebuilt itself.


Waldorf West library opens

The Charles County Public Library system opened the doors of its newest branch, Waldorf West, in November.

The 30,000 square foot building near O’Donnell Lake is the fourth library in the county and took about three years and $10 million to complete.

The newest library nearly doubled the size of the library system and features a drive-thru book drop.

At its opening in November, library Director Emily Ferren said “There is no greater tribute than to thank everyone who has contributed to this project.”

The building is a certified green building, based on the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design criteria.

It was designed with a train theme throughout, and the children’s room is shaped like a train car.

The Painter Family Trains of Indian Head had its model train display at the new branch one weekend in December and library staff held special train-themed story times for children.

The second floor of the building has a teen area with spaces for small study groups and a reference and business center, which has a small conference room.

Along with 60,000 volumes, all brand-new, the library also has a café area on the first floor. The main floor of the building also includes a lobby with an atrium and a frieze with images of historical Charles County buildings.

Last week Ferren said about 900 people visit the new library each day and many continue to use the other branches.

When it comes to the new branch, “What the customers were asking for, we were finally able to deliver.


County, Waldorf get kudos

In August, CNN Money, an online magazine, ranked Waldorf 20th on its list of the 100 best small cities to live in the country.

The magazines, “Best Places to Live” list, ranks America’s best small cities based on median household income, job growth, housing prices, test scores, crime rates, restaurants in the area and other statistics.

CNN Money credited Waldorf as “the major retail spot in Southern Maryland” thanks to the St. Charles Towne Center mall’s renovation in 2007. The publication also praised the town’s lower median housing prices in the “ultra-pricey East Coast corridor.”

CNN Money listed Waldorf as having a median housing price of $189,900 versus $269,768 for the average median housing price among the top 100 best places to live.

In September, Charles County became one of the richest counties in the United States, according to U.S. Census Bureau statistics.

In 2011, the county had a median household income of $91,733, a rise of $4,726 from 2010, according to the American Community Survey, which is conducted annually.

The Washington Post reported earlier this year that Charles County ranked 11th highest in the country, up from 15th last year. The Census Bureau does not supply ranked data on county household incomes.

Kwasi Holman, director of economic development for Charles County, said in September that the ranking shows “the county is continuing to grow especially with highly educated people who are moving in.”


Mudd resigns from town council

At the final La Plata Town Council meeting of 2012, Ward 3 Councilwoman Paretta “Paddy” Mudd resigned from the position she has held since 2005.

Mudd’s resignation from the council takes effect Jan. 1. The councilwoman is moving out of her ward into a Ward 4 neighborhood, and must resign from her position as set forth in the town code.

“Paddy’s knowledge, professionalism, and gracious manner will be greatly missed,” La Plata Mayor Roy Hale said in a press release. “Her desire to work in the best interest of La Plata citizens will be the hallmark of her tenure in office.”