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Thomas Barnett begins role Sept. 30

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

A new county planning director will take over at the end of the month.

Thomas Barnett officially takes over as the director of the Calvert County Community Planning and Building Department on Sept. 30. Barnett was planning director in Paducah, Ky., and Evansville, Ind., for a total of more than 12 years and has been a part of local government for almost 18 years.

“My job, as I see it,” Barnett said during an interview Wednesday, “is to figure out what the leadership wants, what the citizenry wants, and talk to my staff and see how it’s been going on, how we’ve been working towards achieving that, try to make sure they have all the tools they need to do the best jobs they can do to ensure good, quality service to the community — and then try to figure out the best ways, the most economical ways, to go out and help make those things happen.”

The search for a new department head began earlier this year when former director Chuck Johnston announced he was stepping down March 6. He left the position April 5 after serving in the role for 18 months. Currently, Mary Beth Cook is the acting director of the department and when Barnett assumes the role as director she will resume her post as deputy director.

Barnett said his first weeks and months will be spent listening to the county’s leaders, discussing with staff “and ultimately talking with the people who live here … trying to figure out what’s going on.”

“Right now, I don’t have a lot of direction,” he said. “So, most of what I’ve done up ’til now has been the interview process…. So, we haven’t really gotten into their direction to me.”

To prepare for his new position as the county’s director of community planning and building, Barnett said he has researched the county’s history and past and current issues, including the Prince Frederick Town Center charrette — a process that used public input to propose a new vision for the town center.

He said it seems from the county’s layout and history that there has been “a lot of effort” to conserve the county’s green space, “which makes it a very beautiful part of the country. Being this close to the major urban centers of [Washington,] D.C., and Baltimore, it could be a lot denser here.

“... I think there is some desire to see more investment in some of the town centers while protecting the rural and green nature of the rest of the county,” Barnett said. “I’m not sure if that’s right. I think that’s what I’m hearing.”

He said another thing he is going to have to be aware of are the various factions of people within the county who want the county to move in a particular direction. Barnett said he realizes decisions won’t please everyone.

He said the best way to deal with those situations is “to try to let people know that you’re trying to make choices based on the best evidence, based on good information, and really just trying to do the best.”

He said the county has a choice to stay the way it is or to become “extremely dense,” and he imagines the answer to be “somewhere in the middle, but I have to get comfortable that I know what that is.”

When asked if he’s been in an area similar to Calvert with rural areas and town centers, he said his previous cities “have been a bit different.” He added, “I don’t want to pretend I know everything about Calvert County — I don’t.”

He said he has his first impressions of the county, but he won’t understand the way the county is until he starts talking to people and listening “before you figure out really what’s going on and how things are.”

He said, physically, the county is different than his previous localities, but then again, this is also his first planning job on the East Coast.

Paducah, Ky., was very rural, he said, with a population of about 26,000 people in a county of about 50,000. But during the day, the city grew to about 100,000 people who came in from the surrounding area for shopping, education, medical care and jobs.

Barnett said he thinks Calvert residents “will find that I listen, that I ask questions ... I’m very open, I’m very approachable, that I’ll listen. I believe in people’s ability to contact their local representatives and the people who work for them.”

ascott@somdnews.com