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Charles County commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly disputes claims lodged in an ethics complaint filed by planning commission members Joseph Richard and Louis Grasso that her call for their ouster last month violated the county’s ethics code.
The complaint revolves around the Charles County Planning Commission’s March 11 meeting, during which it discussed the preliminary site plan for the nearly 700-acre Piney Reach Business Park, to be located near the county landfill in Waldorf.
During the meeting, Richards and Grasso questioned Planning Director Stephen Ball as to why staff neglected to mention in its report on the project two historical sites that lie within or adjacent to its proposed footprint.
The St. Charles Cos., the park’s developer, has agreed to carve out from its project the site believed to be the location of His Lordship’s Favor, a 17th-century house built by the third Lord Baltimore. Researchers from St. Mary’s College of Maryland found the site in 2009, leading to the 2011 discovery of nearby Zekiah Fort, a Colonial-era Piscataway Indian settlement.
County staff said at the March 11 meeting that a historical review had been completed for the park when it was initially proposed in 2007, before the historical sites had been discovered, and that another review had not been required when the preliminary site plan was submitted for approval.
Ball said he had been unaware of the historical sites before reading February emails between Planning and Growth Management Director Peter Aluotto and local businessman Michael Sullivan, who helped fund the search for Zekiah Fort.
Richard and Grasso both expressed skepticism over Ball’s explanation, prompting him to walk out of the meeting.
The confrontation inflamed what already had become a heated public debate over the planning commission’s makeup. The next day, during the commissioners’ weekly meeting, Kelly unsuccessfully called for the removal of Richard and Grasso from the planning board, citing their alleged repeated mistreatment of county staff.
Grasso’s term was set to expire at the end of 2012, but County Commissioners Reuben B. Collins II (D), Debra M. Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) have voted to keep Grasso on the board until the end of this month. Residents seeking Grasso’s dismissal have cited his questioning of Ball at public meetings.
Richard and Grasso filed the complaint Monday with the Charles County Ethics Commission. They also addressed a copy to Michael W. Lord, executive director of the Maryland State Ethics Commission.
In their complaint, Richard and Grasso describe Kelly’s request that they be removed from the planning commission as “improper” given her alleged financial ties to The St. Charles Cos. through Maredith Management, a community management firm she founded in 2001.
Maredith Management lists more than 50 clients on its website, several of them St. Charles communities.
Specifically, Richards and Grasso cite Kelly’s failure to recuse herself from a March 2011 work session concerning master plan amendments to the Villages of Wooded Glen and Piney Reach, two St. Charles communities.
But Kelly said she turned control of her company over to her children, Megan and Brent Quinn, in February 2011, the month before that meeting and two months after she was sworn in to office.
“So right away, I took care of that,” Kelly said, adding that she still owns the company but is not involved in its management.
Also in February 2011, the Quinn siblings established their own company, Community Transition Specialists, which handles the accounts of community associations that have yet to switch from developer to homeowners’ control, Kelly said.
“That way, it keeps the [developer] money separate [from Maredith Management],” she said, noting that her anti-sprawl stance has likely resulted in less business for her children. “Having me as their mother certainly doesn’t help them and their business. If anything, it’s probably a major detriment.”
In any event, the affairs of Kelly’s adult children are not considered part of Kelly’s financial interests under the Charles County Ethics Code, which was last updated in 2011. That law, which governs the commissioners and county employees, defines “immediate family” as “a spouse and dependent children.” The definition is the same in the Maryland Public Ethics Law, which governs state officials. Another definition in the county code referred to “qualified relative,” which includes a spouse, parent, child or sibling.
County Attorney Barbara L. Holtz said in a statement submitted through county spokeswoman Donna Fuqua that she didn’t necessarily know which, if either, definition pertained to conflicts of interest.
“There are no absolutes that can be gleaned from the Code. There may be opinions by the [Ethics] Board which guide an official’s actions. I regret that I am unable to give you an absolute answer,” she wrote.
Through Fuqua, she declined to speak to a reporter.
The ethics complaint also asserts that a BMW driven by Kelly is under lease to Maredith Management. Kelly said she drives a Volvo and that the company’s BMW is driven by one of its employees.
Kelly pointed out that she had been calling for Richard and Grasso to be kicked off the planning commission well before March.
“This has been going on since we’ve been in office. I’ve repeatedly asked something to be done about it,” Kelly said. “This is an outrage. Everybody in the county knows it. Everybody in the state knows it, but it’s allowed to go on because three county commissioners allow it. Why?”
Kelly also took exception to the planning commissioners dragging her children’s business into a political tit-for-tat.
“I signed up for it, but my kids didn’t, and they should be ashamed of themselves,” she said. “They can do whatever they want to me. They can say whatever they want to me. But I think my kids are off limits. And any mother or father knows what I’m talking about.”
email@example.com Staff writer Erica Mitrano contributed to this report.