WCD is­sues boil over in town hall meet­ing

Some feel sti­fled by com­mis­sion­ers

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

The Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers ad­dressed the pub­lic for the first time on the Wa­ter­shed Con­serva- tion Dis­trict, but ac­cord­ing to some in at­ten­dance, it was not at all sat­is­fy­ing.

At the first quar­terly town hall meet­ing of the year for Dis­trict 1, rep­re­sented by Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D), cit­i­zens said many peo­ple were dis­suaded from com­ing

out and ask­ing ques­tions be­cause of the way the meet­ing was pro­moted.

In a press re­lease dis­trib­uted by the county gov­ern­ment on Jan. 31 con­cern­ing the meet­ing, it stated “ques­tions con­cern­ing the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict will not be ad­dressed since it is un­der re­view with the plan­ning com­mis­sion.” That same in­for­ma­tion was pub­lished in the Mary­land In­de­pen­dent.

How­ever, at the be­gin­ning of the meet­ing, county Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur- phy (D) said that in­for- ma­tion was in­cor­rect and the com­mis­sion­ers could take ques­tions on the pro­posed zon­ing text amend­ment. “If those are in the cards, we’ll cer­tainly deal with those,” Mur- phy said. In an in­ter­view with the Mary­land In­de­pe­dent Thurs­day af­ter- noon, Mur­phy ad­dressed the no­tice pub­lished in the In­de­pen­dent and said he takes “full re­spon­si­bilty” for the in­for­ma­tion that was given, but said peo­ple did still show up and asked the ques­tions they needed to.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, the key for the com­mis­sion­ers, Mur­phy said, is that they must “re­spect the work that the plan­ning com­mis­sion is do­ing.” That is why, he said, com­mis­sion­ers have to be “cau­tious” about com­ments they make on any­thing per- tain­ing to the dis­trict.

“They de­serve ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to make the best de­ci­sion they can with­out any in­ter­fer- ence,” he said.

But some sus­pected the com­mis­sion­ers did not want to take ques­tions on the dis­trict. Jer- ry Feith, a White Plains res­i­dent and former mem­ber of the Charles County Repub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, said he felt the com­mis­sion­ers pur­pose­fully gave false in­for­ma­tion.

“Thou­sands of peo­ple sub­scribe to the pa­per. They all saw this,” Feith said. “When Mur­phy opened it up, he apol­o­gized only be­cause we brought it up.”

The for­mat of the meet- ing did not make things any bet­ter, ac­cord­ing to Matt Wills, a busi­ness­man and Bryan­town res­i­dent. For each town hall meet­ing, a dif­fer­ent for­mat is cho­sen by the com­mis­sioner who was elected to serve the dis­trict. Robin­son chose the night’s for­mat and read ques­tions sub­mit­ted to him off of in­dex cards.

That is not an uncommon method for town hall meet­ings, but Wills said there needed to be di­a­logue to ac­tu­ally get the right ques­tions an­swered. By us­ing this for­mat, the com­mis­sion­ers were able to “dance around” ques­tions and not pro­vide any use­ful in­for­ma­tion, he said.

“I was hop­ing we would be able to com­mu­ni­cate in a town hall fash­ion with our com­mis­sion­ers were peo­ple could get up and ask ques­tions,” Wills said.

Dur­ing the meet­ing, af­ter Robin­son an­swered Wills’ ques­tion about what con­sid­er­a­tions the com­mis­sion­ers gave cit­i­zens when de­ter­min­ing reg­u­la­tions for the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict, Wills asked if there would be an op­por­tu­nity for cit­i­zens to re­spond.

But Robin­son said that was not his cho­sen for- mat and if there was, the meet­ing could po­ten­tial- ly go over time.

“We’ll be here all night,” Robin­son said.

Many of the same ques­tions to the com­mis­sion­ers were re­peated through­out the night, Robin­son said. The an­swers for many would have been re­dun­dant, he said, and that is why some ques­tions were passed on.

But Bill Dot­son, the chair­man of the Repub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee, said “the com­mis­sion­ers have an agenda,” and the way they took ques­tions was their way of con­trol­ling that agenda.

Dot­son, who plans on run­ning against Sen. Thomas “Mac” Mid­dle­ton (D-Charles) dur­ing the next elec­tion cy­cle, said the com­mis­sion­ers have moved in “an ex- trem­ist” di­rec­tion.

“The pen­du­lum swung too far left and now peo­ple are re­act­ing to it,” he said.

Dot­son was also both- ered, he said, that the com­mis­sion­ers deemed ques­tions about other of­fi­cials “per­sonal” and would not an­swer them. Some ques­tions sub­mit- ted by Dot­son per­tained to whether Plan­ning Com­mis­sioner Nancy Schertler was el­i­gi­ble to be on the plan­ning com- mis­sion be­cause of her res­i­dency and why prop- erty owned by Mur­phy in Bryans Road, which is con­sid­ered a “mixed use vil­lage” in the com- pre­hen­sive plan, was not con­sid­ered part of the wa­ter­shed con­ser­va­tion dis­trict.

But Robin­son said what the com­mis­sion­ers are try­ing to do is prac­ti­cal. They are not try­ing to take away peo­ple’s prop­erty or do any­thing out of the ordinary, he said. There are changes still left to be made to the amend­ment and noth­ing, at this point, is fi­nal, he said.

The dis­trict is still in the hands of the plan­ning com­mis­sion­ers and, if they do not make any amend­ments, Robin­son said he cer­tainly will.

“We’re very aware of your con­cerns and the plan­ning com­mis­sion is very aware of your con­cerns,” he said.

The plan­ning com­mis­sion has a work ses­sion, Robin­son said, on March 13 and will likely have to have more than one. Then, the zon­ing text amend­ment deal­ing with the plan will re­turn to the county com­mis­sion­ers in the sum­mer af­ter the plan­ning com­mis­sion process is over. They will have an­other op­por­tu­nity to make changes, Robin­son said.

There are no ex­pected fis­cal losses or down­falls from this plan, Robin­son said. No one should lose money or prop­erty value, he said, and the county does not need to raise taxes to do it.

It helps if peo­ple are in­volved in the process early on, Robin­son said, and the county is do­ing “ev­ery­thing legally re­quired and more” to no­tify peo­ple about the process and where they are.

Wills said it would have helped and Robin­son is cor­rect that if more peo­ple were in­volved early on, they would not be as up­set as they are now. How­ever, he said, “peo­ple are work­ing.”

“We elect these peo­ple to rep­re­sent us. No one ex­pects any­one to do some­thing like this. Peo­ple have jobs. Peo­ple have chil­dren,” he said. “They can’t at­tend ever y meet­ing.”

Dot­son agreed, he said, but now the tide has changed. Af­ter the first plan­ning com­mis­sion pub­lic hear­ing on Nov. 28, he said, cit­i­zens saw they needed to be ac­tive.

“On Novem­ber 28, we all woke up,” he said.

STAFF PHOTO BY MICHAEL SYKES II

As County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son an­swers a ques­tion read off a card sub­mit­ted at the first quar­terly town hall meet­ing in the com­mis­sion chambers, Charles County cit­i­zens hold up signs in protest of the Wa­ter­shed Con­ser­va­tion Dis­trict, a con­tro­ver­sial mea­sure out­lined in the county’s re­cently up­dated com­pre­hen­sive plan. The mea­sure ad­dresses land us­age in the western part of the county.

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