Cecil County Commissioners: Zoning, Decision-making Feud Erupts Anew

March 30, 2011

The Cecil County Commissioners escalated a feud over property rights and their decision-making process Tuesday, with angry exchanges at a morning worksession followed by three commissioners voting in the evening to reject Planning Commission-recommended zoning changes on four properties because they are owned by Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5). Hodge recused himself from the actions.

It was a day of dueling “statements” by commissioners, accusations and challenges, and one Commissioner—Diana Broomell (R-4) — making assertions against Hodge that she later had to admit were wrong.

Three commissioners—James Mullin (R-1) Michael Dunn (R-3) and Broomell—voted to reject zoning revisions on four commercial properties in the Route 40 growth corridor. They did not cite zoning criteria but said they rejected the parcels because they are owned by Hodge.

The Planning Commission had recommended approval of the revisions as part of implementation of the new Comprehensive Plan adopted by the county a year ago. That process and comprehensive rezoning that follows occurs only every ten to twelve years.

Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) made motions to approve the Planning Commission’s recommendations on some of the four Hodge parcels but her motion died for lack of a second.

Hodge had consulted with the County Ethics commission months ago and said he would have no involvement with the review of his six properties with proposed rezonings and asked how to proceed in the overall rezoning process. The Ethics panel advised that there was no need to remove himself from the overall process.

(See previous Cecil Times report and Ethics Commission findings here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/03/cecil-county-commissioners-silent-stall-on-hodge-zoning-request-divides-panel/

During the worksession, Hodge read from a statement questioning the other Commissioners’ refusal to make a decision on two properties a week ago and their unwillingess then to explain their rationale. He said his concerns were focused on the decision-making process rather than the substance of the zoning decisions and said it reflected broader problems with the way the commissioners’ board is operating.

“We must deliberately and diligently and without prejudice make these decisions together as a body of five,” Hodge said. “How we make our decisions is just as important as the decision we make.”

“Clearly, my requests were singled out,” Hodge said. “I feel that I’ve been singled out to be made an example of.”

“As a county Commissioner, I am not required to, and I did not offer to give up, any rights given to all citizens by the U.S. Constitution, including private property rights,” he added. He gave fellow commissioners copies of the Ethics Commission letter.

(County Commissioners are considered to hold a part-time job with the county and are permitted to have outside employment or businesses.)

Broomell shot back that “I didn’t appreciate” an inference that there had been a “meeting before the meeting” and that some of the commissioners had agreed in advance how to handle the issue. “Please don’t accuse me of something until you ask me first,” she said.

Mullin said he felt the commissioners were in “an awkward situation” and he didn’t want to be responsible for “making a decision to increase the value of your real estate” with a rezoning. He said he had no “animosity” toward Hodge but “I was concerned about the perception of the public.”

The feud simmered just below the surface as the commissioners moved on to other business but re-surfaced when Broomell declared she wanted to read a “written statement” and claimed that Hodge had previously sought re-zoning of a mobile home park on Route 213 and it had been denied.

“That is absolutely false,” Hodge interrupted. “It’s not true.” He said he had “never requested any rezoning on any property ever, period” until the comprehensive review.

Broomell glared at him and declared, “Don’t be emotional.”

However, in an email to Cecil Times Tuesday night, Broomell admitted she was wrong in her assertions about Hodge’s mobile home property. “This was incorrect,” she wrote. “After checking with the Office of Planning and Zoning, the parcel which had previously been submitted for a rezoning request was the one prior to Robert’s and was related to Barry Montgomery’s zoning request.”

In fact, the mobile home park in question has been used for that purpose since at least 1972, before the current rural residential zoning was imposed on it, and it has been “grandfathered” to retain its current usage. Hodge purchased it about ten years ago and undertook a significant renovation and improvement of what had been a run-down property. He had sought to have the zoning revised to manufactured homes to reflect its actual usage.

In her email, Broomell also said that she agreed that Hodge has property rights “but he should have exercised those rights before he ran for public office in order to avoid any appearance of impropriety. It places the other commissioners in an awkward position to have to vote on another sitting commissioner’s request. It was not an easy decision but when it came down to it I couldn’t vote for it in good conscience.”

After the evening session, Hodge told Cecil Times that his were the only properties on which commissioners ignored Planning Commission and planning staff recommendations. “Its all political,” he said.

All five members of the Board of Commissioners are Republicans. But Mullin, Broomell and Dunn have become a regular voting bloc since the latter two members were sworn into office a few months ago.

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6 Responses to Cecil County Commissioners: Zoning, Decision-making Feud Erupts Anew

  1. John Abbott on March 30, 2011 at 8:50 pm

    Commissioner Broomell says “Please don’t accuse me of something until you ask me first…”

    Isn’t that exactly what she did to Commissioner Hodge when she accused him of filing a rezone request on his mobile home park?

  2. Alexis on March 31, 2011 at 7:25 am

    It is interesting to observe the citizen gallery during these hearings. They are perplexed at the inconsistency in treatment of Commissioner Hodge. All zoning changes approved by both the County Planning and Zoning staff and the Planning Commission sail through. Except for Hodge. Mullin, Dunn, and Broomell, now openly called the “3 Amigos” or “Smipkins,” violate their oath of office every time they deny a Hodge request. Must be a great feeling to have higher “morals” than the Ethics Commission. Was Dunn so moral to claim a vacant, foreclosed, former residence as his address when filing for office in the last election cycle?

  3. Ken Jenkins on March 31, 2011 at 4:39 pm

    Let me see if I have this correct.
    Commissioners Mulin, Broomell and Dunn are being accused of becoming a “voting block” against their fellow commissioner, Robert Hodge, at the recent rezoning hearings. WOW !
    The fact that Tari Moore, (Hodge’s former campaign manager) continues to be the only commissioner to make a motion to have Hodge’s properties rezoned seem a little suspect.
    Could it be that Hodge and Moore are in fact a “votimg block”. WOW !
    How lucky we are that Carl Roberts lost his bid for the 4th Commissioner District, else Hodge would probably have his rezonings as requested and riding off into the sunset.
    Let’s not be naive about this. I am sure Commissioners Hodge and Moore were counting on a Roberts win and the real “3 Amigos” would have been exposed and Cecil County would soon look like New Castle County, Delaware.

    • Jackie on April 3, 2011 at 9:27 pm

      The answer is simple. Commissioner Moore believes in due process equally for all citizens. The other commissioners evidently do not. Commissioner Hodge’s request for rezoning was similar to many other requests that were approved by all five commissioners. Why was he singled out and treated differently?

      Good and uncorrupt leadership will apply the rules equally to everyone, regardless of name, rank, class, position, etc. Bias and partiality, whether pro or con, is corrupt. In this case, the other commissioners were legislating based on personal feelings. There can be no other reason, given the number of similar applications to upgrade zoning that were approved.

      That kind of governance is dangerous to all of us. In this instance, it was Robert Hodge who had his property rights violated. In the future it could just as easily be one of us. The name on the application should be irrelevant to the decision-making process, and the valididty or merit of the application is what should be considered.

      As a member of the TEA party who actually worked for one of the candidates who behaved in that manner, I am disgusted by such behavior. This is not conservative behavior, because conservatives respect the impartial rule of law; conservatives abhor those who apply the law unequally because of personal bias. We have come to expect different rules to apply to different people from the federal government; getting more of the same at the local level is disheartening.

  4. Ed Burke on April 1, 2011 at 6:41 am

    If you look at relationships you will see that both Broomell and Dunn are former Smigiel Legislative Aides. Dunn resigned after his election. Mullin was involved in the 21st Century Republican Club founded by Smigiel. Dunn and Mullin were part of the SMIPKIN funded “Fiscal Conservative blah blah blah Team”. The “3 Amigos” have worked in concert to punish SMIPKIN enemies wherever possible.

    Does Broomell have a conflict of interest in working for the City of Havre de Grace in a department that competes wih Cecil County for grant money? Does she have a conflict of interest in the matter of widening Rte 222 in front of her home?

    Did Dunn’s wage garnishment shift from his state job to his County Commissioner job or is he still listed as “unemployed” in the court record?

  5. Tina Sharp on April 2, 2011 at 7:38 am

    What right do those three people that barely pay taxes have to deny Robert [Hodge’s] request? Did he lose his citizenship? Does he not generate funds for this county? Sad day in Cecil; all I can say is Mullin MUST GO!

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