- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The Charles County Planning Commission met in closed session Monday evening with County Administrator Mark Belton to discuss personnel issues raised during the commission’s last meeting.
Because the meeting was held in closed session, county officials declined to comment on what happened during that portion of the meeting. However, a commission member who did not wish to be identified due to the confidential nature of the discussion confirmed that it concerned a letter dated March 17 from commission members Joan Jones, Lou Grasso and Bob Mitchell, along with commission Vice Chairman Joseph Richard, addressed to the Charles County commissioners. In the letter, the four members, who identified themselves as “the undersigned majority” of the board, said Planning Director Stephen Ball knew about Colonial-era archaeological sites on the proposed grounds of the Piney Reach Business Park, though he told the commission he did not know about the sites at the time the commission took action on the park’s site plan.
The potential historical issues surrounding The St. Charles Cos. project were first broached during a February planning commission meeting. At the March 11 meeting, Ball walked out after repeatedly asserting that he did not hide anything regarding the site from the commission. Grasso contended then that Ball had “lost the confidence of the majority” of the commission members through his own inaction. Following that, the commission voted to discuss personnel matters regarding Ball and the Planning and Growth Management staff at Monday evening’s meeting.
Although Grasso said he could not remember when the letter had been written, Richard confirmed that the four had not conferred outside of a scheduled meeting time to pen the letter.
“I can tell you that ... we believe this is an important issue that the full board must investigate,” Richard said Tuesday afternoon. “We laid out a chronology of events that I think raises some serious questions. The letter, or rather the request, really speaks for itself.”
If the four met outside a regular meeting, it could be a violation of the state Open Meetings Act.
Commission Chairman Courtney Edmonds, who was not involved with sending the letter, said he had first heard of it from Richard last week but had not yet seen it as of Tuesday afternoon.
“What has been interesting to me is that during open session, I haven’t heard anyone on the planning commission assert that Mr. Ball or anyone violated county regulations,” Edmonds said Tuesday. “I understand the accusations and that there’s anger toward Mr. Ball, but I don’t recall anyone saying that he violated rule or regulation X. I don’t see how any of it rises to the level of such public condemnation based on the information that was provided during the March 11 meeting.”
Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D), who sought an ouster of Grasso and Richard following their conduct during the March 11 meeting, said she was still “disturbed” by the actions of the four commissioners who signed the letter.
“I stand by the notion that this is very troubling, and should be to everyone,” Kelly said Tuesday. “I hope our commissioners and our citizens see that. I’ve done my best to speak out about it ... and I will continue to do that.”
Kelly said she would be interested to learn who actually wrote the letter.
“It has to be addressed at the county level. Our administrator is aware, and we’ll do what we can to address any legitimate allegations raised,” Kelly said.
Although he said he was limited for comment because the issue is a personnel matter, commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins III (D) reiterated Kelly’s sentiment.
“I definitely take these allegations seriously and, from my perspective, can say that the county will conduct a thorough review,” Collins said.
Jones declined to comment on her involvement with the letter. Mitchell could not be reached for comment, and Ball was unavailable for comment Tuesday.