Cecil County Charter: Commissioners Diss Bowlsbey, Seek “New Face” on Charter Panel to be Run by Old Faces
The Cecil County Commissioners voted Tuesday to create a Charter Government Transition advisory panel including the three newest Commissioners, several county government senior staffers, and an unnamed “new face” from the Charter Board that drafted the county charter approved by voters last November.
But Commissioner Board President James Mullin (R-1) and Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) made it clear that they would not accept Joyce Bowlsbey– the chair of the charter board who first suggested a transition panel in January– as the lone representative of the group that wrote the document endorsed by voters, after multiple past efforts by other groups had been soundly rejected by the voters. Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3) was largely silent during the Tuesday discussion, but last week he voiced opposition to Bowlsbey, likening her to a “fox in the hen house.”
Mullin demanded that there be a “new face” from the Charter Board for the one seat on the transition panel, but he did not disclose who that “face” might be and how that “face” would be selected or if the “face” would be selected in public or private deliberations. Mullin declared that he wanted “someone that wasn’t visible in the whole process.”
Under the plan initiated Tuesday by Mullin, a majority of the Commissioners decided that the advisory group should consist of the three newly elected commissioners—Broomell, Tari Moore (R-2) and Dunn—who will automatically become County Council members when charter government goes into effect after the 2012 election when a new County Executive will be elected. In addition, Mullin designated the county administrator, budget director, human resources director, and the county Treasurer. The budget director’s position and the county Treasurer’s position will be eliminated under the charter government plan.
Furthermore, the Mullin plan could sign a blank check for a Baltimore lawyer who is an expert on charter government issues to serve as a paid advisor to the transition panel. There was no stop-loss limit on fees that would have to be paid by taxpayers. However, sources said that the attorney suggested a limited time commitment for the job.
During the discussion of the charter transition advisory panel, Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) offered multiple alternative scenarios to ensure what he said should be a “conflict of interest” -free panel and one that would re-assure voters that the charter government they voted for was being implemented with fairness and transparency.
Initially, Hodge suggested that the panel should include one member of the Democratic Central Committee, one member of the Republican Central Committee, and the county administrator, budget director, Treasurer, and two members of the original Charter Board. Hodge worried, as he had at previous discussions of the matter, that overloading the panel with county employees could pose a “conflict of interest” among current county employees looking to safeguard their positions under charter government.
Hodge said that inclusion of representatives of the local political party committees was a real-world recognition that the transition to charter government—and the 2012 election of a county executive—was in essence a political process. “We need to have their buy-in,” he said of the local political organizations. He also questioned the Mullin plan’s inclusion of “too many insiders” that would lead the public to question whether their voices for “change” had been heard in the vote for charter government.
Hodge also questioned the blank check for the Baltimore attorney, saying that “his paycheck comes from the commissioners” and that, especially if there were three Commissioners on the panel, the attorney could tilt his advice toward the wishes of the Commissioners on the panel.
But Hodge’s concerns were rejected by a majority of the Board of Commissioners. His initial proposal, that would have omitted the three new commissioners, was killed 4-1.
Mullin crafted an enticing plan to put the three newest commissioners firmly in charge of the transition, saying they were the ones who would have “boots on the ground” under the shift from Commissioners to County Council members. That argument drew support from Moore, who often votes with Hodge but not in this case.
[UPDATE: The vote on final passage of the Mulln plan was 3-2, with Moore joining Hodge after Mullin refused to amend his motion to accomodate their requests to add a citizen or citizens to the panel.]
After the meeting, former Cecil County Superintendent of Schools Carl Roberts, who attended the Commissioners’ session while on a break from other meetings in Elkton, reacted with shock to the disrespect shown to Joyce Bowlsbey. “They should be down on their knees” asking her to help them with the Charter government transition, he said. Roberts lost his bid for County Commissioner to Broomell in November’s election.
Bowlsbey was in the audience at Tuesday’s commissioners’ session. Several attendees consoled her with joking support, saying that she was a “fox” and “foxy lady” even if Commissioner Dunn relegated her to a ‘fox in the henhouse.”