- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A plan to remove two members of the Charles County Planning Commission foundered Tuesday morning when the county commissioners split 2-2 on whether to consider expelling planning commissioners Louis Grasso and Joseph Richard.
But before that, two other members of the planning commission had a chance to question commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D), who introduced the motion after the Grsasso and Richard publicly berated county Planning Director Steve Ball for failing to report a possible 17th-century archaeological site discovered on Waldorf land slated for a new business park.
At an informal meeting with constituents Thursday night at the Waldorf West library, Kelly said Grasso and Richard should go because of what she considered their continuing bad behavior. Nothing justified a “public whipping” of a county staffer, Kelly said, noting that personnel concerns are supposed to be handled in private. In any event, the county commissioners, not the planning commission, have authority over government employees.
“To publicly disparage and humiliate, to embarrass our staff, I can’t stand for it and I won’t. … That was a circus being filmed. Can you imagine, for that man, trying to find a job somewhere? Those videos are on our website. The question will always arise, ‘Is he a screw-up?’ And maybe he is, but you don’t put that on TV,” Kelly said.
Kelly defended Ball, as did planning commission member Joe Tieger.
Faulty procedures, rather than negligence, seemed to be to blame for the confusion about the historic site, Tieger said.
“There are approximately hundreds of other historic, tenuously identified historic sites in some file the Maryland Historic Trust has. There doesn’t seem to be a process for having projects vetted against that,” he said.
Tieger was certain planning staff had not intentionally concealed anything regarding The St. Charles Cos.’ application to build Piney Reach Business Park on land adjacent to the county landfill.
“What would they have to gain?” he asked. The county needs a procedure to scrutinize applications that have been shelved for years, as well as a system for protecting potential archaeological sites.
Planning staff also has been overwhelmed by the demands of drafting the Charles County Comprehensive Plan and a land use map, or “tier map,” required by the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act, or the “septic bill,” Kelly said. Both documents have been politically controversial.
Kelly suggested that the commissioners had a duty to protect county employees and that “if your elected officials don’t do something about it, you should be concerned. You can throw the planning commission out; you can throw your elected officials out.”
“Please, please throw me out,” joked Tieger, who is generally an opponent of Grasso and Richard.
But planning commission member Robert Mitchell had fresh criticisms of planning staff.
“You know how long it took me to get a meeting with [Planning and Growth Management Director] Mr. [Peter] Aluotto and Mr. Ball? Take a guess how long it took me to get a meeting with those two gentlemen,” Mitchell asked.
“Two weeks?” Kelly ventured.
“How about nine weeks? Nine weeks,” Mitchell replied.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Kelly said, calling the delay “excessive and disrespectful.”
“I’m trying to give you that side of the coin. They scheduled it nine weeks in advance,” Mitchell said.
After the meeting, Mitchell tried to persuade Kelly to drop her motion, asking her not to “go after” Richard.
“I’m not after him. I just think that he behaved badly. There’s no reason for that. You don’t do that,” Kelly said. “Quite honestly, I don’t expect a lot to happen, but maybe it’s a wake-up call for him to behave better because it’s an embarrassment for our county.”
Grasso, in a telephone interview Tuesday, was reluctant to comment on a meeting that he had not attended. But he said the matter of Piney Reach Business Park, and Ball’s involvement, is not over.
“My only thought, really, was I think it all ought to be aired out in public. I think it would be very interesting if it was. I don’t have anything to hide; I’ve done everything I was supposed to be doing. I’m not sure you could say the same for everybody,” Grasso said.
“Mr. Tieger is wrong” to blame processes, and not county staff, for any lack of information. “It should be thoroughly investigated. Mr. Ball denies that he knew anything about it. There are documents that suggest that he did. The question is what did he know and when did he know about it?” Grasso said.
Richard did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Ball declined to comment through county spokeswoman Crystal Hunt.