Cecil County DPW Hailed as “Heroes” for Irene Response; Commissioner Broomell Disses DPW on Road Code, Again
Scott Flanigan and his staff at the Cecil County Department of Public Works were declared âheroesâ on Tuesday for their ârelentlessâ work to deal with flooded roads and downed trees in the aftermath of tropical storm Irene. But even âheroâ status did not deter Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) from renewing an attack on the department and its handling of road code variances.
Richard Brooks, the countyâs emergency services director, told Cecil County Commissioners Tuesday that the âheroes of the event are the road crews of DPWâ and he recounted the departmentâs ârelentlessâ pursuit of fallen trees blocking roads, closing off flooded roads to prevent motorists from getting swamped by floodwaters, and assisting emergency responders to get through to areas suffering storm damage. Brooks praised âthe kick-butt crewsâ of DPW for their work.
Flanigan accepted the praise modestly, saying his tired crewsâwho stayed out on the roads even at the height of the stormâwould appreciate the recognition. DPW crews also staffed the countyâs water and sewage treatment plants, some of which lost power, and had to use tanker trucks to remove sewage and prevent overflows that could have posed a health problem.
But the commendations were short lived, as Broomell re-opened an effort to turn over decisions on variances from the countyâs road code for new developments or construction to the County Commissioners, instead of the professional engineers at the DPW. There are no engineers on the elected board of commissioners.
Broomell launched her campaign at the August 2 commissionersâ worksession, at which she claimed that variances had been issued improperly or without proper review. Flanigan and Tim Whittie, chief of development services for the DPW, detailed the few variances that have been issued in recent years.
When Flanigan, a certified professional engineer and former U.S. Army engineer and management executive, took over the county job in 2006, there had already been a number of road variances approved and the total for the year was 16. But the numbers went down steadily, to 9 in 2007, 2 in 2008, none in 2009, 2 in 20010 and none so far this year.
Those figures showed that it was an erroneous âperceptionâ by some people, whom Flanigan did not name, that the DPW was âgiving out road code variances like Halloween candy.â He and Whittie gave detailed information on the standards and problems that can come up in reviewing road materials and construction.
At one point during the August 2 session, Flanigan grew visibly angry at suggestions by Broomell that less than professional standards were used to review variances. He pointed out that as a certified professional engineer his first and foremost âethicalâ concern is public safety and âpeopleâs livesâ and that to do anything else could subject him to disciplinary action by professional licensing agencies.
âI hope youâre not taking this as a personal assault,â Broomell said at the time.
But Broomell renewed her campaign on Tuesday, saying that in the past the county commissioners made the final decision on road code variances but a past board shifted the decision to DPW. She said citizens should be able to make their case to the commissioners if they object to a development and its roads.
Some anti-growth groups have used road design issues and citizensâ refusal to grant easements as tools to try to block residential developments.
Flanigan took exception to what he said was her characterization that the DPW professionals were âsacrificing or putting at risk the safetyâ of citizens in favor of developers. âI find that highly offensive,â Flanigan said.
County Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) said âcounty commissioners have no clueâ on such technical matters and, if left to their own devices, would probably make âpoliticalâ decisions on individual cases. âIf itâs not broken, donât fix it,â he said of the current system of DPW decisions, which are subject to appeal to the Circuit Court.
After two worksession meetings to discuss the issue, the commissioners again deferred any action after Commissioner James Mullin (R-1) said he wanted to âread the road code.â