Dillman Out As Head of Planning Group; Cecil County Ponders Taking in Orphaned Office

May 9, 2011

CHESTERTOWN– The Upper Shore Regional Council, which provides economic development and planning assistance to Cecil County and two other area counties, is facing financial problems and its long-time executive director will be laid off next month.

Some Cecil County Commissioners want to take the floundering organization under the county’s wing, providing free office space and support services, until the Council regroups next year. But leaders of Kent and Queen Anne’s counties, which are also members of the three-county group, have questions about such a plan.

There were also many other unanswered questions—including why the local Council has such financial problems in the upcoming fiscal year despite an increase of about $27,500 in state funds for Fiscal 2012 and why it is the only regional council of many in the state to face such extreme difficulties.

At a Monday meeting of the Council – which consists of county commissioners from Cecil County, Kent County and Queen Anne’s County, as well as local economic development officials and state legislators— the group’s executive director, John A. Dillman, said he would voluntarily be laid off at the end of June as a cost-cutting measure. He declined to tell Cecil Times his current salary.

During recent closed-door budget discussions among the Cecil County Commissioners, there were veiled proposals about creating a regional economic development entity to be based in Elkton, but no details about how it would be funded or organized. (See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/04/cecil-county-budget-commissioners-spread-pain-a-cecil-times-special-report/

However, on Monday the scenario seemed to shift to basing an office manager in Elkton for six months and then re-locating her, and a new executive director of the Council other than Dillman, back to Chestertown in January, 2012. Dillman proposed that he would continue to represent the regional council on various state panels without compensation.

But Council leaders did not vote on how to move forward and left the fate of the council up in the air. The apparent scenario is that the economic development directors of the three counties will be responsible for taking over the work for regional planning activities for the next six months, on top of their other duties.

According to Dillman, the upcoming FY12 budget for the Council consists of $100,000 from the state Department of Economic and Business Development, $36,000 from the three counties ($12,000 each) and a $2,500 federal economic stimulus grant, for a total of $138,500.

Dillman tried to get the Council to agree on a proposed “scope of work” for the remnants of the Council in FY12 that would cost $37,185, much of which would be allocated to a local “telemedicine” initiative advocated by state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) and Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36). Legislation on that issue proposed by the duo never got out of committee in Annapolis this year because there is already a state panel, including the University of Maryland and state emergency medicine experts, reviewing the subject.

Some county commissioners questioned Dillman’s agenda. Queen Anne’s County Commissioner Steve Arentz said that the Council had no role to play and that hospitals were already taking the initiative. “It’s a business decision for them,” he said. “It’s going to happen anyway,” he added, describing a demonstration of University of Maryland doctors using a robot at a local hospital to transmit patient data to doctors in Baltimore.

The question of Cecil County’s role in harboring the remnants of the regional Council brought some sharp questions from Cecil County Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5).

“Cecil County did not offer office space” to the Council, he said, adding, “I take great offense” that “some Commissioners” made representations that Cecil County would take the Council under its wing and provide a home for the organization. He pointed out the potential high costs of moving files, office furniture, computers and providing telecommunications services in Elkton, and then moving them back again to Chestertown next January, as proposed by Dillman.

Cecil County Commissioners’ President James Mullin (R-1), who also serves as president of the regional Council, retorted that he was “going to broach the issue” at Tuesday’s Cecil County commissioners’ work session after the regional Council reviewed the matter.

Cecil County Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4), who arrived about 40 minutes after the meeting began, chimed in that it was only “one desk” to be located in Elkton that was being proposed.

It was not elaborated upon during the meeting who would pay moving costs, telecommunications expenses, etc. if the Council offices were moved to Elkton and the Cecil County office building.

Meanwhile, Dillman has been the executive director of the Upper Shore Regional Council since its creation in 2004, after Sen. Pipkin used the lack of a regional Council as a political campaign issue in his successful challenge to Sen. Walter Baker (D) in the 2002 election. Dillman has been a political donor to Pipkin’s campaigns, providing at least $600, and also donated $975 to Smigiel’s campaigns, according to state records. Dillman also was appointed to the Cecil County Board of Elections by former Republican Gov. Robert Ehrlich, and served as President of the Board for four years.

Prior to landing in Cecil County, Dillman was a long-time employee of the state of Delaware, until he was fired as personnel director of the Delaware State Police in 2002, amidst a protracted legal battle over minority hiring for state troopers. The US Department of Justice sued the state in 2001, charging blacks were discriminated against by testing and hiring practices under the agency’s personnel policies. Dillman sued to try to get his job back and failed, but eventually the state paid him a more than $400,000 settlement to end the litigation, according to federal court records and reports in the Wilmington News-Journal.

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