- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The terms of three Charles County planning commissioners expired New Year’s Day, but the county commissioners have taken no action to replace them, two county commissioners said.
The terms of Charles County Planning Commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds and members Lou Grasso and Joan Jones expired at the end of 2012. Edmonds and Jones are eligible for appointment to second four-year terms, but Grasso, having served for eight years, is not. Under the land use article of Maryland law, the three will continue to serve on the commission until they are replaced, even though their terms have expired.
“It is not what I consider to be an optimum situation,” said Commissioner Ken Robinson (D), who said he “would like to” address the matter soon.
He and commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said the board has not examined the matter nor placed it on a future agenda. The other three commissioners, Reuben B. Collins II (D), Debra M. Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D), did not return calls seeking comment.
County government spokeswoman Donna Fuqua confirmed in an email that appointments had not been made.
Edmonds and Grasso both said they have heard nothing from county government and plan to continue their work on the seven-member board until told otherwise.
“I’ve not been notified of any kind of official action relating to anyone’s tenure. I’m proceeding under the understanding that until I’m notified that I’ve been replaced or some action has been taken, I’ll proceed as if I’m on the planning commission and as if I’m still the chair,” Edmonds said.
“I haven’t heard anything. Nobody said anything to me. I don’t know if I’m on or off. I think I’ll get a letter,” Grasso said.
Jones did not return a call seeking comment.
Former Maryland Del. Murray D. Levy said he knew nothing about the situation but thought it best that appointments be delayed to preserve the current balance of power on the board while it deals with controversial issues. During a public forum in September, Levy suggested that the commissioners delay the appointments, saying it “would be a mistake” to replace any members and noting that “you do not have to make those appointments on Dec. 31, and I’d like you to consider what the impact would be if you do.”
Levy reprised that position in a Monday interview.
“I think the concern, the major concern, would be they can’t reappoint one of the members [Grasso], so they would have the [new] seventh member literally making all the decisions on the land use and tier map,” said Levy, who is also a paid lobbyist for the Balanced Growth Initiative, a Charles County “property rights” organization that has opposed restrictions on development.
Because votes on controversial issues have often been 4-3, with Grasso and Jones in the majority and Edmonds in the minority, replacing Grasso now would give a neophyte too much responsibility as tie-breaker, Levy said.
“I certainly wouldn’t want to be that person, with little or no knowledge, caught in the maelstrom. I don’t think that would be a good position. What you would have left is the board without one of the majority opinions, so you’d have three and three. So, the next person in would be the decider with the least amount of information. They’ve been working on this [comprehensive plan] for two years.”
But Robinson said now would be an ideal time to reappoint or replace members because the board’s work is done on two important projects: the Charles County Comprehensive Plan, the county’s chief planning document, and a land conservation map required by the Maryland Sustainable Growth and Preservation Act, commonly dubbed the “septic bill,” which passed in 2012.
“At this point in time, I think the current planning commission has pretty much finished all of their work that has been deemed as controversial. They have sent the comprehensive plan to the state for review; the tier maps will be before the county commissioners with a public hearing Jan. 8,” Robinson said.
Kelly said that she respected the board’s decision to take no action, although she did not agree.
“There’s a sense that certainly once you’ve served your term, it seems only fair that other citizens should have an opportunity to bring their expertise to the [planning commission],” Kelly said.
Replacing Grasso would benefit the board, she added.
“I believe that Mr. Grasso ... has been a very problematic influence on the board, and I don’t see that it is in the best interests of the board to keep him on the board. I’ve been saying this for a long time. It’s nothing new; it’s nothing personal, but this is a very important board, and I don’t believe he has always had the objectivity that is necessary for a board of this type,” she said.
Nancy Schertler of Newburg, a critic of the planning commission, also wanted Grasso to go.
“That’s outrageous,” she said when informed by a reporter that new appointments had not been made.
Schertler has applied for one of the open seats, she said, and wanted new people to have a chance to serve.
“The Board of County Commissioners has a responsibility to their constituents to replace the members on the Planning Commission whose terms have expired. The current planning commission makeup is dysfunctional, and in terms of demographics, the Commission does not reflect the population of the County with only one woman, and four members who live in La Plata,” Schertler wrote in an email.