Plan­ning staff make rec­om­men­da­tions for com­mis­sion rules

Washington’s Discovery forces look at pro­ce­dures, mo­tions

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com

The Charles County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion is un­der­go­ing a process in which it will amend its cur­rent rules and pro­ce­dures. The com­mis­sion reg­u­larly reviews its rules, but many ques­tions have come up af­ter the pro­ceed­ings of the pro­posed pre­lim­i­nary plan for Washington’s Discovery sub­di­vi­sion in Nan­je­moy in which the plan was ad­min­is­tra­tively de­ferred and mul­ti­ple mo­tions came down to tie votes.

Af­ter the site plan was ap­proved by the com­mis­sion in a sub­se­quent meet­ing, ques­tions came up about what the com­mis­sion should do in the case of a tie vote, when projects are able to be ad­min­is­tra­tively de­ferred and when projects would be sub­ject to pub­lic com­ment and tes­ti­mony. Dur­ing last Mon­day’s meet­ing, Yolanda Hip­ski, a pro­gram man­ager with the county’s plan­ning and growth man­age­ment staff, aimed to an­swer them.

Plan­ning Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Gil­bert “Buddy” Bowl­ing said “this is a process that has been in progress for some time.” Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schertler and Com­mis­sion Vice Pres­i­dent Joan Jones are both work­ing on a com­mit­tee with plan­ning staff to have the “rules and pro­ce­dures thor­oughly looked at and adopted,” he said.

Hip­ski said she re­viewed the plan­ning com­mis­sion’s rules and pro­ce­dures, the 11th edi­tion of Roberts Rules of Or­der and rules and pro­ce­dures from five other coun­ties to come up with her rec­om­men­da­tions. The big­gest dis­cus­sion points for the Charles County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion were what hap­pens when there is a tie vote, when changes can be made to an agenda and whether com­mis­sion­ers could al­low the pub­lic to speak on a pro­ject.

In the re­sult of a tie vote, Hip­ski said, the cur­rent rules and pro­ce­dures are “silent” on tie votes and do not rec­om­mend any spe­cific ac­tion. But later in the com­mis­sion’s rules, it states that Robert’s Rules of Or­der should serve as a guide for meet­ings. And, ac­cord­ing to Robert’s Rules, Hip­ski said any mo­tion “must be adopted by ma­jor­ity vote.” Any­thing other than ma­jor­ity re­jects a mo­tion, she said.

Hip­ski rec­om­mended the com­mis­sion­ers adopt that same pro­ce­dure in their own rules, clar­i­fy­ing that a ma­jor­ity is needed to af­firm a mo­tion and a tie would re­sult in a fail­ure.

That leads to another is­sue, Hip­ski said, about how projects are placed and con­tin­ued on the plan­ning com­mis­sion’s agenda. Specif­i­cally, she said, whether projects can be placed back on an agenda ad­min­is­tra­tively. The com­mis­sion pres­i­dent and clerk pre­pare and dis­trib­ute agen­das. The com­mis­sion’s cur­rent rules do not state if any ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tion is ap­pli­ca­ble to items af­ter they are placed on the agenda.

There ap­pears to be no process for it, Hip­ski said, with lit­tle flex­i­bil­ity to make change. Be­cause of that, Hip­ski rec­om­mended the com­mis­sion­ers vote on each agenda with a for­mal vote, leav­ing the agenda sub­ject to change prior to the vote with “the com­mis­sion­ers, staff or ap­pli­cant” al­lowed to make re­vi­sions. Af­ter ap­proval, it can only be amended by ma­jor­ity vote, she said.

Other lo­cal­i­ties have pro­ce­dures al­low­ing them to move items around or even off of an agenda un­til another meet­ing takes place, Hip­ski said. The cur­rent rules and pro­ce­dures in Charles County do not have any spe­cific di­rec­tion re­gard­ing de­fer­rals.

Hav­ing that flex­i­bil­ity is im­por­tant, Com­mis­sioner An­gela Sher­ard said.

“I would urge it,” she said. “It kind of in­ter­rupts the process if we’re not com­pletely fin­ished with dis­cus­sion or de­bate on the topic.”

The third big is­sue for the com­mis­sion­ers was al­low­ing pub­lic com­ment dur­ing any re­view of a pro­ject. As it stands, there is no pub­lic in­put process for ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tions on sub­di­vi­sions. But Hip­ski said lim­it­ing pub­lic com­ment on site plans can be an is­sue for the com­mis­sion­ers and ci­ti­zens.

“If we limit pub­lic in­put for site spe­cific projects, the plan­ning com­mis­sion and staff are not able to un­der­stand and ad­dress the spe­cific con­cerns and prob­lems of those who live near a spe­cific pro­posed pro­ject,” she said.

Schertler also rec­om­mended a de­fer­ral pe­riod for any item an ap­pli­cant chooses to de­fer. If an ap­pli­cant chooses to with­draw an item in Fred­er­ick County from its plan­ning agenda, they may not re­turn be­fore the coun­cil for 60 days.

Hip­ski rec­om­mended the com­mis­sion­ers per­mit pub­lic meet­ings on ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tions and in­clude pub­lic tes­ti­mony in the or­der of the meet­ings when site plans are up for re­view.

Fred­er­ick County’s pol­icy on per­sonal ap­pear­ances is dif­fer­ent from Charles, Schertler said. Fred­er­ick County’s pol­icy al­lows peo­ple to speak “on any mat­ter be­fore the coun­cil,” while Charles re­stricts per­sonal ap­pear­ances to items off of the agenda.

Com­mis­sioner Robin Barnes said he does not know if hav­ing a hard dead­line for ap­pli­cants is nec­es­sary. Flex­i­bil­ity is nec­es­sary for the rules, he said.

“To put in a hard and fast, it’s got to be 60 days or 180 days, that num­ber seems ar­bi­trary. I do want to en­sure that we have flex­i­bil­ity that makes it fair for the ap­pli­cant as well as it al­lows trans­parency for the pub­lic,” he said.

Com­mis­sioner Rosemin Daya said she thinks they’re ex­cel­lent sug­ges­tions, but some do need “more teeth to it.”

She agreed with Barnes say­ing there needed to be more flex­i­bil­ity in the rules, but said they also want to avoid hav­ing to make too many changes to the agenda.

The com­mis­sion­ers will con­tinue to work on their rules and nail them down, Bowl­ing said. How­ever, it will be a con­tin­u­ous process, he said. If the com­mis­sion­ers can­not find the bal­ance they are look­ing for, they can re­visit the rules next year.

“It’s a work­ing doc­u­ment. This is new for ev­ery­one, so I think this will be a con­tin­u­ous process for ev­ery­one. We might not get it right the first time, but we can con­tinue to work on it,” Bowl­ing said.

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