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The Charles County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to create a six-member work group to develop a state-mandated septic tier map and make associated recommendations for the county’s draft comprehensive plan.

As proposed by commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D), the work group’s members will comprise “an equal number of proponents and opponents of the proposed comprehensive plan” — draft plan opponents Charles County Planning Commission Chairman Steven M. Bunker, Maryland Department of Planning Secretary Richard E. Hall and former Calvert County planning director Greg Bowen, and proponents planning commission Vice Chairman Joseph Richard, developer Douglas W. Meeker and Newburg farmer David Lines.

The group will complete its work and submit recommendations by Feb. 28 to the commissioners, who will then vote up or down without making changes to the work group’s proposals.

“This is an attempt to address many of the issues that have been raised in the general public,” Collins said, adding that he had “received certain assurances from the state that they were OK with this general procedural plan.”

Commissioners Debra M. Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) voted alongside Collins in support of the work group, while board President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) and Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) voted in opposition.

The work group was the only matter discussed in the board’s first work session on the comprehensive plan since an October public hearing that saw speakers opposed to the draft plan outnumber supporters.

The group’s makeup “virtually assures that there will be, if any movement is involved, it will be consensus-driven,” Collins said. “It won’t be a majority.”

Richard’s second term on the planning commission expired at the end of 2013, so he is not eligible to be reappointed. Under his proposal, Collins said the commission would appoint another of its members to the work group once Richard has been replaced.

Hall said Thursday that he has agreed to participate, and that county staff has asked his office for potential dates to schedule the first meeting.

“I am looking forward to gettting down to brass tacks with this work group,” Hall said.

Robinson asked that the board first vote to reject the draft as currently proposed before considering whether to create the work group.

“I’m assuming, Commissioner Collins, that based on your introduction of this draft motion, you’re not happy with the draft plan as it was presented to us,” Robinson said.

“I am convinced that the comprehensive plan that has been submitted is legally sufficient,” Collins said.

Robinson said passing the comprehensive plan off to a work group amounted to the commissioners “shirking our responsibility and punting probably the most critical decision we will make during our term in office.”

“I think that all the members on this proposed work group are fine and honorable county citizens, but this is not their job,” he said. “This was the planning commission’s job, and this was our job, and we need to have the guts.”

“Perhaps you view it as not having the guts. Perhaps I view it as an opportunity to diminish the bloodletting and division within the community on this issue,” Collins said.

Robinson also lamented the reduced role county planning staff have had in the process since November 2012 when their proposed tier map was discarded by the planning commission in favor of one submitted by the Balanced Growth Initiative, a pro-growth group made up of county landowners and businesses.

“They have the education and the expertise, and they worked very hard on this, and basically they were, talk about diminished role, county staff’s role in this whole process was diminished, and I’m frankly embarrassed about that portion of it,” Robinson said. “We’re not experts on anything or everything here. We’re supposed to take the advice, and we’re supposed to trust those that we hire, and I do.”

The role of county staff was “one of the issues that have made this so divisive,” Collins said.

“Looking at the makeup of this working group, these are well-respected individuals, and I think the representations and interests of all people involved in this process, no matter what position you have on growth or the comprehensive plan, will be thoroughly and mutually respected,” he said. “You’re going to have, essentially, a consensus. It will force a consensus, just the makeup of this body.”

Kelly (D) questioned how divisive the comprehensive plan really was among county citizens. County Planning Director Steve Ball said at the beginning of the work session that roughly 2,000 comments had been submitted following the October public hearing opposed to the draft plan, while only 30 comments came in support.

“You talk about this bloodletting and division in our county,” Kelly said. “I’m not seeing it. Two thousand to 30 is not division. Two thousand to 30 is a real clear majority, which forces me to say, what is the motivation here?”

“The bottom line is we were elected to a do a job, and it’s not easy,” Kelly said. “When you don’t have the guts to stand up and do the right thing, and you want to keep hiding behind committees, I find that embarrassing.”

Kelly finished by stating that the county was “becoming the laughingstock of the state,” and calling for her and her colleagues to resign if they couldn’t complete work on the comprehensive plan themselves.

Kelly’s comments came hours after she acknowledged publicly for the first time investigations into whether she illegally inspected Collins’ tax forms in April 2012, and insinuated that Collins and Commissioner Debra M. Davis were trying to “stonewall” resolution of the case due to underlying circumstances involving take-home county vehicles.

“Wow, you’ve had a great day, Commissioner Kelly. You’ve accused us of all kinds of stuff,” Davis said, before commending Collins on “his leadership and compromise because there’s surely enough votes as you may guess, to approve this comp plan without any compromise.”

“I am frankly ready to put this thing to bed, but in an effort to seek some compromise, and even to involve the state, which I don’t think they have a role in it, but even to involve the state, I think it’s an awesome opportunity to make some strides for people who still have some issues with the comp plan,” Davis said.

“I think it’s a good compromise,” Rucci said.

jnewman@somdnews.com