Cecil County Commissioners Name Owen Thorne–Litigant Against County– to Planning Board
A divided Cecil County Board of Commissioners Tuesday appointed Owen Thorne, a failed candidate for county commissioner and a vocal opponent of development and infrastructure proposals in the northern county—to the county Planning Commission.
The 3-2 decision followed the increasingly usual pattern of Commissioners James Mullin (R-1), Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3) joining together to approve the appointment while Commissioners Robert Hodge (R-5) and Tari Moore (R-2) opposed.
Thorne is a longtime manager of a record and music store in Newark, DE and for the past few years has been employed at the New Castle County (DE) public library, according to his “Linked In” social media page.
Thorne also ran unsuccessfully for County Commissioner in 2006, coming in second to Brian Lockhart in the Democratic primary and a few votes ahead of Joe Janusz in that contest. The seat on the Planning Commission to which Thorne was appointed was vacated by Janusz.
Janusz was considered a moderate on planning issues who was not afraid to cast a few controversial votes, based on the issues and individual circumstances, while overall supporting a slow-growth agenda. Thorne has staked out a firm anti-growth agenda, participating in lawsuits against the county on the Aston Pointe project in northeastern Cecil County and a still-pending suit challenging a water/wastewater agreement with the private Artesian water company in the “Elkton West” area.
Thorne is a resident of the Glen Farms area and an active leader of the Appleton Regional Community Alliance (ARCA) that has been strongly opposed to development of any kind in the northeast county area, including a High’s convenience store that triggered an unsuccessful lawsuit against the county. The Aston Pointe suit was rejected in the courts but the Elkton West lawsuit is still pending.
Thorne’s involvement with ARCA and the multiple lawsuits that forced the county to incur massive legal bills prompted Commissioner Hodge to challenge the appointment of Thorne to the planning panel.
“I’m going to vote against” Thorne, Hodge said, because his positions “have cost this county hundreds of thousands of dollars” in legal fees and “he has a tremendous conflict of interest.” Hodge said it would be comparable to “putting a fox in the hen-house” to put Thorne on the planning panel because his anti-growth agenda would prevent him from being a non-partisan planning panel member willing to listen to all sides.
Thorne’s appointment was put forward by Commissioner Dunn, and since Thorne is a resident of his district the usual protocol is for each commissioner to pick his/her own choice for the planning panel. Dunn was asked to defend his selection of Thorne, to which he said he thought that Thorne’s record as a litigant against the county was “an asset.”
When Hodge cited a conflict of interest between Thorne’s role as an activist with the ARCA group versus the county planning panel that must decide issues impartially, Mullin prompted Dunn to suggest that maybe Thorne would step down from that group if appointed to the county Planning Commission. Eventually, before the vote later in the afternoon, Dunn acknowledged that Thorne had “agreed” to resign from the ARCA group.
County sources said that the selection of Thorne was actually initiated by Commissioner Broomell and that Dunn, as the resident commissioner for that district, went along with the choice.
Broomell sought to defend Thorne by saying that former County Commissioner Brian Lockhart (D-3) had “conflicts of interest,” too. But Commissioner Moore said that if Broomell believed that, she should realize that “two wrongs don’t make a right” and how could it be OK for Thorne’s conflicts of interest to be overlooked?
Hodge observed that the selection of Thorne was ultimately the responsibility of Dunn, and he “will have to live with it.”