While Talbot County citizens are recovering from last month’s local election and preparing for their holidays, its local government is working through a significant puzzle concerning the end of the term of Planning Commission member Lisa Ghezzi.
It’s a humdinger.
Ghezzi was appointed in 2018 by the Talbot County Council via letter to be one of five members of the Commission, the governmental body with meaningful oversight of growth and development. Significantly, that letter referenced that her term of office would end on December 2, 2022. And so on November 22nd, as their last legislative act before the new Council term began, the former County Council approved the appointment of James C. Corson to replace Ms. Ghezzi for the next five years.
All of this seems reasonable enough, except that the Charter of Talbot County, our local constitution so to speak, says that this year Ms. Ghezzi’s term does not expire until midnight on December 5th. The charter also says the Council’s term expires at noon on second Monday of December which is also December 5th, but twelve hours before the end of Ms. Ghezzi’s term.
That odd inconsistency caught the eye of more than a few people in Talbot County, as many would like to have Ms. Ghezzi continue on that commission, given her strong commitment to controlling growth. Many also believe, given the makeup of the newly-elected Council, she would have a fair chance of being reappointed to the Commission.
Because of the perceived procedural misstep by the former Council, a number of citizens, including former Councilman Dirck Bartlett and Judge John North, have sued the county claiming that the former Council had taken an Ultra vires action, which translates into: they had no power to making this change.
Beyond the politics of Ms.Ghezzi‘S seat on the commission, the Spy has found this discussion of law held in Judge Thomas Kehoe’s Zoom courtroom fascinating.
The Talbot County attorney, now representing the current Council, argued that the old Council did have the authority to make the appointment, given the precedence set of a court case in 2004.
As one might imagine, the plaintiffs’ attorney, Michael Pullen, a former Talbot County Attorney, said in so many words that this argument was hogwash. In short, County government actions must live by its Charter (constitution) full-stop. Pullen said plaintiffs contend that, properly read, it is the newly elected Council that must make the appointment.
The fact that this question on the Talbot County Charter’s authority had lingered since the 1970s is one mystery that will never be known. But to the credit of presiding Judge Kehoe, it was the court’s decision to rule on the case rather than dismiss it and thus kick can come down the road. Kehoe also made life easier for all parties by saying he understood the urgency of clarifying for Ms. Ghezzi and Mr. Corson who will be at the planning commission table at their next meeting. The judge will make a decision next week.
Mid-Shore citizens and elected officials should pay attention next week to what Judge Kehoe’s decision is in this case. We know the Spy will.