Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens watched most of Monday night's raucous County Council meeting at home on television, but went to bed when council members started "attacking" county employees, she said yesterday.
She mused over what the political fallout might be over a surprise move by four council members at the meeting to reopen debate over a contentious Safeway project in rural Deale.
"I get blamed for everything," Owens said.
At the meeting, which lasted until midnight, four members ambushed their colleagues who backed a proposal change zoning on the Safeway parcel.
The proposed zoning change, which would limit the size of commercial development, would have effectively scrapped Safeway's plans to build a 55,000-square-foot store.
The four pushed through amendments that would allow Safeway to renew its efforts to build a large store at Routes 258 and 256.
Democratic council members Pamela G. Beidle, Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., Shirley Murphy and Bill D. Burlison introduced the amendments without warning and succeeded in adopting one of them, which would maintain commercial zoning at the Safeway site, as well as a swath of properties in Deale.
A second amendment to change the zoning of a property next to the Safeway lot from residential to commercial was not adopted because the council ran out of time. Votes don't count after midnight.
Both actions will be discussed at a council meeting Sept. 4.
Regardless of what the County Council decides, Owens could have the final say. The county charter provides her with veto power.
But Owens' spokesman Matt Diehl said yesterday, "It's too early to think about that now."
Owens said she played no role in the late-night politicking, and that she has questions. "I'd like to know where the amendments came from," she said.
But Deale residents who oppose the Safeway suspect the amendments originated in Owens' fourth-floor office in Annapolis.
"I think this is one of the most underhanded pieces of political work I have ever seen," said Ron Wolfe, chairman of the Deale/Shady Side Small Area Planning Committee, members of which worked for two years to develop zoning recommendations.
Wolfe criticized county planning officials, who he said wouldn't support zoning proposals last night that they had backed previously.
Wolfe said that unless Owens publicly scolds those county employees, he would have to assume she had gone back on her word.
"When you have representatives of the administration and they ... actually undercut the county's position, I find that odd," said Wolfe, who after the meeting yelled at an Office of Planning and Zoning employee, "I hope you enjoy your Safeway!"
Another community member, Amanda Spake, who is president of South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development, said she also blames Owens.
"I think you have to assume that the county executive is changing her opinion," said Spake. "If she really wants to stand by her commitment to the [Small Area Planning Committee], then she has to get her supporters on the County Council to pull back that second amendment and she has to do it publicly."
For her part, Owens said she supported the change of zoning on the Safeway property, but that it is up to the County Council to make a final decision.
Owens suggested that residents who are upset by the amendments should "go to the council."
"It is out of the administration's hands," she said.
Council members who tried to block the amendments were reeling yesterday.
They noted that the maneuvering by the four council members did nothing to ease tensions on the council dais.
"I thought we were on the mend, but it does seem like we have hit a new low point, doesn't it?" said John K. Klocko, III, a Crofton Republican and one of three council members who opposed the amendments offered last night.
Beidle said she regretted the way the amendments were presented.
She said she wished she had made an effort to reach out to Klocko, whose district includes Deale and Shady Side, before the council meeting.
"It does hurt us as a team," she said. "Everything was going so well there for a little while."