- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
This article was corrected May 4, 2011.
Charles County staff had trouble finding enough chairs to seat the overflow crowd that came out to discuss local issues at commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly’s town hall meeting Wednesday night at the county government building in La Plata.
Several residents expressed dissatisfaction with the Charles County Planning Commission, claiming it has ignored public feedback throughout the process of drafting a new comprehensive plan.
Kelly (D) said she was “very discouraged” with the commission’s decision to reject input from various smart growth, environmental and development experts while revising the plan.
“I wasn’t elected to the planning commission and I’m not on the planning commission, but I would do things differently,” she said.
Indian Head Rail Trail Committee member Edward Joell said the town is trying to rebuild itself around the Indian Head Rail Trail, Village Green and Mattawoman Creek.
Charles County stands to lose $30 million in annual revenue generated by bass fishing if the area around the creek is developed, Joell said, adding that outside consultants have determined the town could make another $40 million by promoting all of its assets which include the rail trail, the Mattawoman Creek and the town’s Village Green.
Kelly received applause when she said the creek is “not just an environmental issue, it’s an economic development issue, folks. Charles County needs jobs.”
When asked by Nanjemoy developer and community activist Cornell Posey what the county could do to ensure the recently approved natural gas plant in Waldorf employs local workers, Kelly said she would like to see a certain percentage of the facility’s jobs set aside for county residents, similar to the arrangement she has pushed for during negotiations over the proposed Walmart Supercenter in La Plata.
Several mothers criticized current school redistricting plans, citing disruption to their children’s education.
One woman, who said her family is going through its sixth school redistricting since 1998, blamed the county’s rapid residential growth for creating an overcrowded student population.
“Our schools, they are not able to keep up,” she said.
Another mother was worried what effect redistricting might have on her daughter, who had trouble reading before teachers at her current school helped her improve.
“What is being done?” she asked Kelly.
School redistricting is controlled by the Charles County Board of Education, but Kelly said the root of the problem lies with county growth policies that have allowed development to outstrip construction of adequate infrastructure, including public schools.
Del. Peter F. Murphy (D-Charles) said the county’s growth is an example of why the state has recently begun to push harder for smart growth policies at the local level that direct development to areas with existing infrastructure.
Kelly, Murphy and Education Association of Charles County President Elizabeth Brown encouraged all of the parents in attendance to show up at local board of education and planning commission meetings to voice their concerns before final decisions are made.
“You have so much more influence than you think. I really encourage you to show up at the planning commission, because that is where all of this starts “ said Murphy, a former commission member. “This county belongs to everyone in this room. I know it’s a hassle to get down there, but I promise it is worth it.”
“I thought I was involved” by attending PTA meetings and student field trips, Natasha Copeland of White Plains said, adding that redistricting often sends students to schools that are so far away it cuts down on their ability to participate in extracurricular activities.
“Don’t mess with these momma bears,” Kelly warned.
Leonard Randolph, who lives in the Brentwood community off Bensville Road, raised safety concerns over a proposed bus route that would send his children, currently students at Theodore G. Davis Middle School in Waldorf, down Billingsley Road if they are transferred to Matthew Henson Middle School in Indian Head.
Randolph said he plans to start up an effort to oust the current members of the Charles County Board of Education.
“I don’t think it was a well-thought-out plan because the [U.S. Army] Corps of Engineers said that Billingsley Road is unsafe. How is it safe enough for our kids to get on that road?” Randolph said after the meeting. “The public forum meetings that the board of education had [on redistricting] were just a formality. It appeared their minds were already made up.”
Kelly said the county was pushing back its budget hearings in order “give the state legislature time” to finalize its unsettled budget situation.
The Maryland General Assembly convened April 9 having passed a budget, referred to by Democratic lawmakers as a “doomsday” option, that would cut $512 million from education, local police aid and state agencies.
The cuts were intended to force compromise among Democrats on accompanying bills that would have shifted some of the cost of teachers’ pensions to the counties and increased income tax increases for individuals making $100,000 or more and families bringing in $150,000 or more.
The House and Senate were unable to pass either measure before the session ended, but Democratic leaders expect to convene a special session in the coming months to complete work on the budget. Republican lawmakers have decried calls for a special session, pointing out that even with the cuts the approved budget still increases spending over the current fiscal year.
Conference committees appointed by both legislative chambers did reach agreement in the waning hours of of the final day on a pension plan that would cost Charles County $3.9 million in fiscal 2013, $5 million in fiscal 2014, $5.6 million in fiscal 2015 and $6.6 million in fiscal 2016 and thereafter. Those figures could change if and when Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) calls a special session.
“It’s going to be a big hit whenever we find out what it’s going to be,” Kelly said. “Whenever we talk about money, it’s never good news. That’s how it is in government.”
Residents didn’t raise the public rift between the commissioners, which recently saw three of them vote to strip Kelly of many of her powers as board president.
The only mention came from Kelly herself, who alluded to the vote while discussing possible options for residents dissatisfied with the comprehensive plan process.
“You may have heard, as of a couple weeks ago I can’t really do much of anything,” she joked, adding quickly, “I am kidding, of course.”