As virtually its last act, at the tail end of its very last meeting, and with no advance notice on the agenda, the outgoing County Council on November 22nd voted to make a critical appointment, replacing a sitting Planning Commissioner. But that spot on the Planning Commission does not become vacant until the new County Council’s term. It is rightly the decision of the new council to make the appointment, perhaps simply naming the current Commissioner (who applied for reappointment) or choosing someone else they prefer to serve on the Planning Commission.
The Problem? It is NOT just that the County Council did not have the authority to make the appointment. Worse: the County Council—and most importantly, the County Attorney who advises the Council and is responsible for seeing that members have sound, accurate legal advice and guidance—knew in advance that they did not have that authority, and they did it anyway!
This hail Mary pass at the end of the county council term is illegal and cannot stand and is an insult to county voters who have made their voices heard in the recent election.
A group of concerned Talbot citizens, represented by Mike Pullen, the former County Attorney, filed suit in Talbot County Circuit Court yesterday asking the Court to declare the action of the departing Council out of bounds, and cut off that blatant attempt to influence, if not control, future land use decisions, on their way out the door.
(This was not just any old appointment to any old board: it is the Planning Commission that most closely oversees all of Talbot’s land use decisions—including those affecting Lakeside, should it come back for a new review–and will also oversee the next Comp Plan revision starting in the new Council’s term.)
Personally, I am truly saddened to find myself suing the County. I think of it, frankly, not as an action against Talbot, but an action for Talbot. We have seen this exact movie before in 2002 and the county faced a similar lawsuit way back then. In any event, it seems either the ineptitude of the County Attorney, or the attitude of some on the outgoing Council, or both, make this unfortunate action necessary.
The Complaint we filed, which spells out the whole sordid story in detail, is here. Please take a moment to read the suit and educate yourself on the importance of this issue. The rewrite of the Comprehensive Plan is on the near horizon in 2023 and who sits on the Planning Commission is of fundamental importance to our County.
Letters to Editor
Eva M. Smorzaniuk says
Thank you for clearly explaining the facts behind this lawsuit. It is unbelievable that the Talbot County Council, fully aware of the suit filed in 2002, would repeat the same egregious and illegal act. Back then both the circuit court and the court of special appeals found in favor of the plaintiff, who, like the current incumbent commission member, was “replaced” by a lame duck Council apointee before her term was over. The fact that this current action was cleared by the county attorney is equally egregious. It seems our current council members want to end their terms with the same bad decision making that was the hallmark of their time in office. The citizens of Talbot County deserve better than this!
Margaret McConnel says
I was so outraged by the County Council’s action that I too joined the complaint.
For the good of Talbot County disregard of the law must be stopped.
Al Sikes says
At the first meeting of the new County Council legal representation needs to be reviewed.
Hugh Panero says
What an appalling move on the part of the lame duck County Council to replace a sitting Planning Commissioner and rob the new County Council of its right to make this important appointment to the planning Commission. Such dirty tricks should not happen or be tolerated. I think Lisa Ghezzi, the current sitting commission, has done a terrific job and should be reappointed based on her quality record since being appointed as a Planning Commissioner. I would like to thank Dirck Bartlett, Mike Pullen and the other concerned citizens for moving so quickly to stop this back room nonsense through its detailed and compelling litigation. Another concerning thing is the roll of the Attorney for the County Council, Patrick Thomas, who is nowhere to be found and clearly giving very bad advice. The new Council should take a hard look at his role in all of this.
Gerry Early says
An excellent letter from someone who was one of the truly great County Council members of recent memory.
As its first official act, the new County Council should fir the disgraced present County Attorney.
robert wenneson says
The outrageousness of this conduct of the outgoing Co Council is even more extreme than appears on the face given that attorney Michael Pullen got wind of the council’s intentions several days prior to their action and gave them (and the current County attorney) a three-page letter advising in detail of the illegality of their proposed action. To no avail. The outgoing council willingly (and quickly) accepted input from the current county attorney in deciding to go ahead with the appointment. As another reader noted, “Time to really look at who is advising the council”. Why does Talbot County feel it’s appropriate or necessary to have our interests represented by a law firm an hour away, the Macleod Law Group, which is based in Chestertown with one satellite office, in Denton? (regardless of the fact that the acting county attorney has a mail drop here in our courthouse). Talbot County really has no local firms that could handle providing the advice occasionally needed?
The same question regarding the adequacy of protecting the citizens’ interests vs. the Co Council’s opposing desires arose on Lakeside when the county attorney’s legal advice was (again) for the council to act in such a matter that is now in litigation. Just like the decision noted in this Spy letter above. Now also in litigation.
Dick Deerin says
Thank you for bringing this abuse to light.
Carol Voyles says
Knowing that the council had been made aware of this concern, it was surprising that this item of business passed so quickly and without discussion.
The timing issue might understandably have been overlooked, had attention not been called to this matter well before the meeting – and none of our current council members served at the time of the court case cited.
The first principle cited by the court actually seemed supportive the council’s action: “…at the time the appointment is to become effective, there is, or will be a vacancy in that office.”
But the court also ruled that the appointing authority must “retain the power to make the appointment when the vacancy occurs.”
Good to get this settled.
Sharron Cassavant says
Thanks, Dirck, for taking action. You can be counted on to oppose unfettered development and all the association evils. I worry that developer dollars are influencing recent decisions.
JoAnne Crowder says
Thank you Dirck. It is reassuring to know know that there is a group of Talbot citizens watching our theses issues.