Com­mis­sion­ers dis­cuss Tri-County Coun­cil fund­ing while rais­ing trans­parency is­sues

Davis takes board to task about pro­ce­dures

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

In its last meet­ing of the year, the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers raised a few is- sues with each other re­gard­ing trans­parency that will likely linger into the new year.

Af­ter last week’s meet­ing with the chair of the Tri-County Coun- cil of South­ern Mary­land, the com­mis­sion­ers came back this week with a dis­cus­sion on the agenda about how the county should fund the coun­cil mov­ing for­ward led by Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D).

The county is legally man­dated to give at least $9,000 to the coun­cil ev­ery year, but can opt to give more if they want, Mur­phy said. St. Mary’s is ob­li­gated to give the same amount while Calvert County has to give $7,000.

But rather than just the typ­i­cal $9,000, Charles County cur­rent- ly gives $72,300 to the coun­cil with $50,000 of it go­ing to a sum- mer youth pro­gram ben­e­fit­ting Charles County chil­dren.

Charles County pro­vides more fund­ing to the coun­cil than the other ju­ris­dic­tions, Mur­phy said, but the re­turns on the in­vest­ment are not any greater.

The coun­cil has “ma­jor tasks” and they all have to do with South- ern Mary­land, he said, yet in a trans­porta­tion let­ter they draft- ed last year, the Gov. Harry W. Nice Memo­rial Bridge re­place­ment, which was a ma­jor pri­or­ity for Charles County, was on the sec­ond page and one of the last bul­lets. The county was also not no­ti­fied when the coun­cil’s chair of its agri­cul­ture com­mit­tee was fired ear­lier this year.

And while the pro­gram for sum­mer youth seems to be ben­e­fi­cial, Mur­phy said, it is fair to ques­tion whether the county should pay

the coun­cil $50,000 to run it when they could poten- tially run it them­selves.

“Tax­pay­ers money goes to the coun­cil,” Mur­phy said. “Some of my con- cerns are want­ing to make sure the money we’re spend­ing, we get the right re­turn from it.”

Mur­phy said he wanted to bring forth a dis­cus­sion in front of the com­mis­sion- ers to see if they be­lieve if there should be any changes to the fund­ing.

Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said he wanted to con­tinue to fund the coun­cil’s agri­cul­tural com- mit­tee in the same ways to ful­fill a prom­ise in the com­pre­hen­sive plan of hir­ing an agri­cul­tural mar- ket­ing head for the county.

How­ever, Com­mis­sion- er Amanda Ste­wart (D), re­quested that staff take a look at whether it was best for the county to con­tinue to fund a sum­mer youth pro­gram they could poten- tially run them­selves.

“Cut­ting out the mid­dle man,” may be a more ef­fec­tive strat­egy go­ing for­ward that could poten- tially ben­e­fit more Charles County cit­i­zens than the 25 that were in the pro­gram last year, Ste­wart said.

But Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent De­bra Davis (D) had an is­sue with the dis­cus­sion over­all, say­ing she did not see it com­ing and that talk of “de­fund­ing” the Tri-County Coun­cil was com­menced with­out any real knowl­edge of the pro­gram and its ben­e­fits de­spite hav­ing a meet­ing with John Hart­line, the coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, in the com­mis­sioner’s hear­ing room just a week be­fore.

“To have ex­perts pres- ent one day and then have these un­e­d­u­cated dis­cus- sion and put them out to the cit­i­zenry like its fact, it does a dis­ser­vice to our cit­i­zens,” Davis said.

Over the last year, Davis served as the chair­woman of the coun­cil’s ex­ec­u­tive board. She said Mur­phy, nor any­one else on the com­mis­sion, reached out to her to ask any ques- tions about the coun­cil or its pro­cesses.

Ev­ery­thing was done for the ben­e­fit of South- ern Mary­land, not just Charles County, she said, but Charles County’s in- ter­ests were al­ways in- cluded.

The board showed “a lack of trans­parency” Da- vis said, by hav­ing this meet­ing af­ter Hart­line left and seemed to al- ready have it set that the coun­cil’s fund­ing from Charles County would be de­creased.

The first time Davis saw the dis­cus­sion on the agenda was on Tues­day just be­fore the meet­ing started. Part of Mur­phy’s is­sue with the coun­cil, she said, was the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion between them. But he did not reach out to her to com­mu­ni­cate any is­sues, she said, de­spite her be­ing the chair of the ex­ec­u­tive board.

“I wish you had shared it with me, at least given me the re­spect as the chair to know what was com­ing,” Davis said. “Just be­cause you have a prob­lem with me, we have to get by that so we can do what is best for our cit­i­zens.”

But Mur­phy said there was noth­ing per­sonal about the de­ci­sion to look into it and the process that the county is cur­rently us­ing is trans­par­ent. The com­mit­tee is hav­ing a dis­cus­sion in an open meet­ing for ev­ery­one to see, he said, which is the cor­rect way to dis­cuss mat­ters when tax­payer money is in­volved.

Davis said the in­for­ma­tion the other com­mis­sion­ers used in their ques­tion was in­ac­cu­rate, but both Mur­phy and Ste­wart said they gath­ered their in­for­ma­tion from the meet­ing last week and from in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by staff.

Ste­wart ques­tioned what Davis’ def­i­ni­tion of trans­parency was and said she felt the process they cur­rently have of hold­ing dis­cus­sions in the pub­lic eye were suf­fi­cient enough. Robin­son said what Davis was sug­gest­ing sounded like “a back­door meet­ing,” and would not be trans­par­ent in it­self.

But Davis said “the back- door meet­ing has al­ready hap­pened,” between other com­mis­sion­ers and she was ex­cluded. That is where the lack of trans- parency comes from, she said.

Com­mis­sioner Bobby Rucci (D) said he also shared con­cerns about trans­parency within the board.

“When the res­o­lu­tion is al­ready there, wouldn’t you dis­cuss it be­fore the res­o­lu­tion is al­ready writ­ten up?” Rucci said in ref­er­ence to the res­o­lu­tion ap­proved dur­ing last week’s meet­ing to use fund­ing from Vi­sion 20/20 to fund the part­ner- ship between Health Part- ners Inc. and the county’s Health Depart­ment.

But County At­tor­ney Rhonda Weaver said it is not un­com­mon to have res­o­lu­tions pre-drafted days in ad­vance be­fore meet­ings. Robin­son said that is why it is “im­por­tant to read Board Docs,” be­fore meet­ings.

Still, Davis said, if there are two com­mis­sion­ers who are con­cerned about the board’s trans­parency “there is enough to be con­cerned about.”

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