- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Despite opposition from members of a committee charged with reviewing Charles County’s policies ensuring that public school capacity keeps pace with new development, the county commissioners voted Tuesday to create new positions on the panel for real estate agents and teachers.
The board created two spots April 30 on the School Adequate Public Facilities Program and Funding Review Committee for members of the Southern Maryland Association of Realtors, prompting the Education Association of Charles County to request two positions for teachers.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) moved to grant the union’s request during the commissioners’ meeting last week, but it failed without a second. The board agreed to reconsider the matter after hearing from panel members.
Several on the committee expressed reservations about adding new members at its May 8 meeting and relayed those concerns to the commissioners Tuesday.
“We feel that the sudden request for two new members could be very disruptive,” Charles County Board of Education member Pamela A. Pedersen said, noting that a couple of the members did not agree with that assessment. “But in general, those sitting at the table were of the opinion that our six meetings have been very informative, very educational, and are indeed just chock full of information. It would be very difficult at this time to catch someone else up.”
Pedersen did not specify which members disagreed, but the two representing the building industry, Douglas M. Meeker and James Lorenzi, both indicated at the May 8 meeting that they were fine with adding two SMAR members.
Commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D), who is a member of the panel, said he didn’t understand how the additions would be disruptive, “because I have attended the meetings, and up to this point, it has been fact gathering.
“There hasn’t been any initiation of any policy initiatives, nothing has been put in place that could be codified as being actual results, and the two entities that are requesting, from my perspective, you could argue would actually bring something to the table to help continue the dialogue as it relates to school funding.”
Board of education member Jennifer S. Abell said it had taken six committee meetings to ensure all members understood the various issues being discussed, including developers rights and responsibilities agreements, the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, transfer taxes, how schools are built and various laws that must be followed.
“All those things come into play, and bringing somebody else new into that, we’d have to start all over again educating a new person,” she said.
Abell emphasized that the panel encourages community input by holding public forums and having representatives speak at their meetings, adding that SMAR and the teachers union were welcome to do so.
“I just think if you keep inviting these different entities, we could go on forever and we’re never going to get anything done,” she said.
“A lot of your comments are based on the presumption that people will come to the table without any knowledge on the issues,” Collins said.
“With all due respect, I don’t believe that a teacher is going to know that much about a DRRA, and I don’t think the real estate agents are going to know that much about building a school,” Abell retorted.
From the audience, SMAR representative Paula Martino asked if she would get a chance to address the commissioners.
“No, Ms. Martino, you will not,” commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) said. Kelly, who also sits on the panel with Collins, was absent for the April 30 vote creating the two SMAR positions.
Waldorf resident Rosemin Daya, a parent member of the committee, asked if the commissioners were also going to appoint two senior citizens to the panel because their taxes go toward schools that their children no longer attend.
“There’s a slew of other people that need to be on there. I just think that maybe what needs to, just scrap the whole commission and start over then,” Daya said. “I just think, to me, I really feel that it’s a mockery of the entire committee.”
Collins said he “wouldn’t preclude membership” from any citizen group on any committee addressing important issues, “and you know what, if senior citizens requested a seat at the table, I would be open to that idea as well.”
SMAR member Glenda Harrison, who serves on the panel as a parent representative, said at the committee’s May 8 meeting that she was capable of giving the real estate community’s perspective.
Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) said the committee members were on the agenda to brief the commissioners on their progress, not to lobby for or against the new positions.
“Was that put on the agenda?” Daya said. “Because if I would have known prior that representatives were just going to be put onto our commission, then I would have been here speaking on behalf of that and stating that that would not be a good idea.”
The SMAR positions were not put on the April 30 meeting’s agenda. Davis brought up SMAR’s request for the first time during new business, and the commissioners voted then to create them.
“I think that to make changes right now would be certainly disrespectful to the folks that have worked so hard,” Kelly said.
Davis said she wanted to let Martino speak, but Kelly refused. Davis asked again minutes later, and Kelly again refused.
“She’s a citizen and she wants to speak, Candice,” Davis said. “If this is any indication of how the board is going to be when they won’t let someone who wants to speak speak.”
“You are out of order,” Kelly said.
“I know I’m out of order, but you are too, because I’ve asked you twice,” Davis replied.
Collins moved to create the four new committee positions and cut off additional membership. Robinson seconded the motion.
“My feeling is that, I, like [Kelly], think leave well enough alone with this committee, but I think it would be unfair to have two SMAR members and then not have the two EACC members,” Robinson said.
The motion passed 4-1, with Kelly opposed.
At the commissioners’ monthly public forum Wednesday evening, community activist Cornell Posey of Nanjemoy raised concern with the committee’s racial makeup, citing that only two of its nine members — Collins and Harrison — are black. More than 41 percent of Charles County residents are black, according to U.S. Census figures.
“It doesn’t represent Charles County,” Posey said.