As Cecil County Commish Turn: Soap Opera Turns Serious in Brawl over Artesian, PSC, Taxpayer $
A political brawl over Cecil Countyâ€™s contract to sell most of its water and sewer plants to the private Artesian firm took a serious turn Tuesday, after Artesian threatened to invoke a contract clause placing the county at risk of costly legal action. The commissioners backed down late in the day and agreed to send a letter to state authorities supporting the Artesian sale– but not before the Commissioners got into a public shouting match Tuesday morning.
It was a day of extraordinary bickering, even in the current Cecil County Commissioners political world that is routinely cast as a war between a three-member majorityâ€”consisting of Commissioner James Mullin (R-1), Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3)â€”versus fellow Republicans Robert Hodge (5th) and Tari Moore (2nd)
Dunn tried to attack Hodge for accepting several Artesian-linked political donations, but a Cecil Times initial review of state records showed that Broomell had comparable or greater donations from anti-Artesian advocates.
Beneath the surface, the public political conflict had a serious private undertone, due to a letter sent by Artesian last Friday invoking a clause in the sales contract that required the county board to be supportive of the sale before the state Public Service Commission which must approve the sale, sources said. If the county were in breach of its contract, there could be costly legal repercussions.
Contrary to that agreement, Broomell appeared before the PSC last week to publicly excoriate the sales contract. She tried, unsuccessfully, to postpone a PSC hearing on the Artesian sale, after enlisting the support of her former employer, Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36), to ask the PSC to delay a scheduled hearing. The state agency refused to delay the hearing but put off a final decision for another week to allow all sides to submit additional briefs.
Late Tuesday, county commissioners agreed on a letter to be sent to the PSC in support of the Artesian sale, as stipulated in its contract, so as to avoid a potentially costly breach of contract claim, informed sources told Cecil Times. (One can only imagine the head-spinning confusion, or laughter, at the PSC in Baltimore upon receipt of such a letter, after hearing Broomellâ€™s impassioned anti-Artesian testimony last week.)
Meanwhile, at a commissionersâ€™ work session Tuesday morning, Moore and Hodge separately condemned what they said was improper collaboration by the Mullin-Broomall-Dunn clique to oppose the Artesian application at the PSC and the firing of the countyâ€™s attorney, Lawrence Haislip, a highly-respected Baltimore lawyer who has represented the county in the case for over three years. His firm continues to represent the county in other matters.
Moore said the sudden decision, instigated by the three-member majority, to fire Haislip in a closed-door commissionersâ€™ meeting last week was â€śa breach in the integrity of the processâ€ť and those commissioners handling of the PSC case could have a â€śdevastatingâ€ť impact on the county.
An angry Broomell shot back: â€śI would have appreciated you let me know you were going to make that statement this morning.â€ť Broomell added that she â€śran on a platformâ€ť last year to try to kill the Artesian sale. She then began to discuss confidential aspects of the contract with Artesian, but county Attorney Norman Wilson cautioned her not to continue in public comments.
â€śYou let her (Moore) speak,â€ť Broomell declared. She then asserted that fellow commissioners were part of â€śthe sorry leadershipâ€ť of the county.
Hodge interjected that the current board majority was trying to â€śobstruct and impede the contract with Artesianâ€ť that a majority of the previous board of commissioners had approved, and multiple lawyers have said is a legally binding contract.
He said the county faced a â€śloss of reputationâ€ť if the commissioners did not respect its contract with Artesian and no other businesses would want to locate in the county if agreements were not honored. He also challenged the prime anti-Artesian criticsâ€”the Appleton Regional Community Alliance (ARCA) and the Cecil Land Use Alliance (CLUA)â€”to come up with positive alternatives for water and sewer services in the county growth corridor.
Then the usually silent Dunn suddenly got talkative, accusing Hodge of â€śconflicts of interestâ€ť because of contributions to his election campaign. Dunn asserted that the fired attorney on the Artesian caseâ€”Larry Haislip– and â€śtwo Artesian executivesâ€ť had donated to Hodgeâ€™s election campaign. â€śYour bias is showing,â€ť Dunn declared.
But a cursory review of state records by Cecil Times shows a comparable amount of money flowed to Broomell from active opponents of the Artesian sale– $1,037 for Broomell– versus $1,000 for Hodge, including the donations from Haislip who is not exclusively an Artesian-related party.
A Cecil Times review of state election board campaign finance reports shows that Hodge received a $500 donation in 2007 and a $250 donation in 2008 to his campaign from Haislip, for a total of $750. Haislip has made other donations primarily to Republican candidates, especially the campaign of Robert Ehrlich for governor.
Haislip has represented the county on a wide variety of legal issues, not just Artesian, and the 3-2 vote to fire him on the Artesian case did not carry over to other legal work he does for the county.
Dunn did not specify names when he fumed that two Artesian executives had donated to Hodgeâ€™s campaign but state campaign records show that Dian Taylor, CEO of Artesian, gave Hodge $100. James Buckland, an Artesian executive, donated $150.
Leaders of the anti-Artesian groups ARCA and CLUA were significant contributors to Broomellâ€™s campaign, and Mullin has also received donations. Most of Dunnâ€™s campaign money came through the auspices of Del. Smigiel, who wrote the letter to the PSC seeking a delay in the panelâ€™s consideration of the Artesian case last week.
For example, George Kaplan, a longtime CLUA leader and current board member, gave $200 to Broomell and $100 to Mullin. Then there are Ed and Sally Cairns, who gave $47 to Broomell and also donated $148 to Hodgeâ€™s election opponents in 2008. Ed Cairns was the lead opponent of the Artesian sale before the PSC hearing on behalf of ARCA. Sally Cairns testified in support of ARCA leader Owen Thorne on Tuesday at a hearing before the county commissioners on a proposed re-appointment of Thorne, initiated by Dunn, to the county planning commission.
Next is Charles Herzog, another current CLUA board member, who gave Broomell $290, along with $500 to Smigiel. In addition, Ron Hartman, treasurer of ARCA, gave Broomell $200. [Updated: CLUA board member Rupert Rossetti gave Broomell $100 and another $200 to Mullin.] Sue Fuhrman, an â€śintervenorâ€ť in the ARCA case against Artesian who also testified in support of Thorne, is on record giving $50 to Broomell.
And Ken Wiggins, a longtime CLUA advocate, gave Broomell $150 and Mullin $90.
Just that tally shows Broomell receiving $1,037 from ARCA/CLUA supporters, or an approximate wash for the donations Dunn fumed about regarding Hodge.