Commissioners discuss Tri-County Council funding while raising transparency issues
Davis takes board to task about procedures
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.”