Commissioner Dunn Targets Cecil County Ag Coordinator; Closed-Door Move Has Political Hint
A Cecil Times Special Report
Cecil County Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3) proposed during a closed-door meeting of the County Commissioners last week to drop the current agriculture co-coordinator position in the county’s Department of Economic Development, according to multiple informed sources. Agriculture and farm-related business constitutes a major segment of the Cecil County economy.
The position is currently held by the wife of the campaign treasurer for a Circuit Court judge facing voters in the 2012 election, when Dunn’s former boss, Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36), is widely expected to run for a judgeship challenging the incumbent.
The move by Dunn came last Tuesday, at a closed-door meeting of the county commissioners, for which the board cited sections of the state’s Open Meetings Law only allowing secret discussions of “pending or potential litigation.” No personnel issues were cited.
Nevertheless, Dunn—who normally says almost nothing in public sessions of the commissioners– proposed getting rid of the ag coordinator, a position currently held by Joanne Richart Young, according to multiple sources who spoke to Cecil Times on condition of anonymity. Dunn claimed that the recent citizens’ budget advisory committee had made such a proposal, according to sources.
After Tuesday’s commissioners’ worksession, Board President James Mullin (R-1) claimed that the budget advisors had made such a suggestion in their final report, and “that’s why it got on our radar screen.”
However, the report submitted to the County Commissioners at their April 19, 2011 worksession, and testimony by the panel’s chairman, James Butkiewicz, at that meeting made no such suggestion. In fact, the citizens’ budget advisory panel noted that the county’s Economic Development Department had about the smallest increase in funding over the past ten years of any county department. The report stated that “the slowest growth [in county spending] has been in economic development, 1.79%” over a decade.
Moreover, the Fiscal 2012 budget adopted a few months ago by the Cecil County Commissioners cut the Economic Development Department significantly, down from the $1,040,685 budgeted in the Fiscal 2011 budget year to just $899,386—a 13.6 percent cut in one year, or $141,299 in cash.
So why might some commissioners want to cut the ag co-coordinator from the county Economic Development Department?
Joanne Richart Young is married to Ralph Young, an icon in the southern Cecil County community for his tireless service to local charities, such as the Cecilton Lions Club, and he was the longtime leader of the Fair Hill Nature Center. But Mr. Young, a Republican, has been a critic of the political machine led by Del. Smigiel and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36).
Mr. Young recently signed up to be the campaign treasurer for Keith Baynes, a Republican who got the surprise appointment from Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley for a vacant seat on the Cecil County Circuit Court. Baynes will have to run in the 2012 election to retain that seat.
Smigiel is widely expected to file his candidacy in that election for a judgeship.
Before getting elected as a county commissioner, Dunn worked as a legislative aide for Smigiel for several years and the Smigiel-Pipkin political machine financed Dunn’s campaign for commissioner. Mullin is firmly aligned with the Smipkin machine.
Ms. Richart Young enjoys especially strong support in the local horse community, which is an important segment of the county’s agricultural economy, especially in the southern area of the county. She has also been in charge of promoting local farmers’ markets, value-added agriculture such as local wineries and community-supported ag programs, and agriculture-related tourism in the county.