Carroll County Planning Commission, seeking to erase any appearance of undue influence on its work by the Planning Department, may not allow the planning director to continue serving as its secretary.
The commission already broke the tradition temporarily June 20 when it appointed Zoning Administrator Solveig Smith as acting secretary.
Commission members are studying whether to hire a part-time secretary from outside county government, Chairman Dennis P. Bowman said last week.
"Some members felt the Planning Department carried too much weight in the Planning Commission's process. We wanted to dispel that belief," he said.
"People feel the Planning Commission should be separate from the staff in all ways."
The commission is studying the issue now because the planning director's and secretary's jobs are vacant after Edmund R. "Ned" Cueman retired Friday.
Mr. Cueman, director for 25 years, played an active role in Planning Commission discussions, but was not a voting member.
The commission considers zoning changes, reviews new development and advises the commissioners on the county's capital budget.
"It makes sense to study our options," commission member Robert H. Lennon said.
Mr. Bowman and commission member David T. Duree said Mr. Lennon suggested earlier this year that they study the secretary's role.
A secretary who also has Planning Department responsibilities could find it hard "to try to serve two masters," Mr. Lennon said. He would not say whether a specific conflict had arisen.
"The Planning Commission is supposed to be independent of county government," Mr. Lennon said.
County Commissioners appoint the seven Planning Commission members, but state law requires that the board operate independently. One county commissioner is a voting member of the board.
Mr. Duree agreed that the Planning Commission secretary "should be solely responsible to the Planning Commission."
Appointing an outside secretary also would "unleash the planning director to aggressively pursue many initiatives before the Planning Commission," he said.
Planning Commission members said they appointed Ms. Smith as secretary because she is knowledgeable about the planning process and did not apply for the planning director's job.
"Solveig was chosen because she's pretty familiar with what the Planning Commission does, and she's not running for the planning director's job, so she's a neutral person," Mr. Bowman said.
Assistant Planning Department Director K. Marlene Conaway, who was named acting director as of Saturday, has applied to hold the job permanently.
"We didn't want to prejudice anything by naming anyone who is a candidate" for the job, Mr. Duree said.
The Planning Commission made a change in January that also was meant to erase any appearance of undue influence by the planning director, Mr. Duree said. The board moved its meetings to a larger room in the County Office Building and seated planning staff members at a table separate from board members.
"This has been an evolving process," Mr. Duree said.
Planning Commission members stressed that the changes do not reflect personally on Mr. Cueman or Ms. Conaway.
"I've been comfortable with Ned serving as secretary in the past," Mr. Bowman said.
Mr. Cueman provided "background and insight" on issues, he said.
County Commissioner Donald I. Dell, a Planning Commission member during his last term, said he opposed hiring an outside secretary because the county can't afford it.
He said he would support giving the position to a staff member other than the planning director, but did not remember an issue in which he thought the director had undue influence on the board.
The zoning administrator became an employee of the Planning Department Saturday, when a reorganization by the County Commissioners took effect. The administrator had been in the Department of General Services, which now is defunct.
Ms. Smith has worked for the county almost 23 years. She will not receive extra pay for the secretary's job.
Last week, she prepared a summary of the secretary's responsibilities for the Planning Commission. In the past, the secretary has kept notes of meetings, helped prepare meeting agendas, assisted in preparing an annual capital budget and signed subdivision plats and commercial site plans on behalf of the commission.
Mr. Duree said the Planning Commission hopes to make a decision about any changes in the secretary's job by the time a new planning director is hired.
The county hopes to hire a planning director by August or September, County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said Friday. Thirty-nine people applied for the job, and 13 will be interviewed next week, he said.