Owen Thorne Barks but Cecil County ‘Patriots’ Bite Back at Planning Appointee
While celebrating his recent birthday, controversial Cecil County Planning Commission member Owen Thorne barked his approval when his friend, Cecil County Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3), called Thorne “the guard dog of Cecil Co.”
“Ruff, Ruff,” Thorne replied to Dunn’s post on his Facebook wall. “Hey, am I still a planning commissioner next month?”
Dunn is trying to give Thorne a belated birthday present with renewal of his interim appointment to the planning panel. And Thorne has already been handed an influential subcommittee chairmanship that could largely determine how land preservation funds are allocated.
Members of the Cecil County Patriots, the local tea party organization, howled back at the ‘guard dog’ Tuesday during the public comment section of the county commissioners’ meeting.
At an earlier worksession of the commissioners, Dunn refused even to say in public who he would be naming to represent his district on the planning panel. But the tea party people had marked their calendars on when Thorne’s interim appointment would expire in August. The county commissioners were due to vote on the un-named appointee on Tuesday but put action off until later in the month since Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) had to attend a state farm bureau meeting.
The temporary appointment drew controversy in June because of Thorne’s role as an activist with the Appleton Regional Community Alliance that has sued the county repeatedly and unsuccessfully. ARCA litigation against the sale of some county water and sewer plants to the private Artesian firm has cost county taxpayers over $203,000 so far.
[See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/06/cecil-county-commissioners-name-owen-thorne-litigant-against-county-to-planning-board/
Since his initial appointment, Thorne was given the chairmanship of an important subcommittee on Priority Preservation Areas at the behest of County Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4), who serves as the non-voting commissioners’ representative to the planning panel. Clearly, renewal of Thorne’s appointment was already in the cards to give him such a powerful post, which will play a key role in deciding which lands to include in programs that provide tax credits and other financial incentives for land preservation.
The subcommittee will also likely be a key player in implementing a purchase/transfer of development rights plan pushed by Commissioner James Mullin (R-1), who also voted with Dunn and Broomell to appoint Thorne to the commission in June. The county commissioners have earmarked up to $1 million in casino revenues to launch that land preservation effort.
A discussion of Thorne’s new subcommittee chairmanship is described in meeting minutes which show Broomell designated him to take over the subcommittee, which will “identify criteria for including into the Priority Preservation Areas.” And the chairman of the subcommittee-- Thorne-- will get to “decide who would serve on this subcommittee,” which will develop “recommendations” to the Planning Commission and the county commissioners.
A Cecil Times review of audio tapes of two recent Planning Commission meetings attended by Thorne show him asking questions about a Rising Sun farm stand with some rhetorical flourishes but overall showing a more restrained verbal style than he displayed during his failed campaign for County Commissioner four years ago or more recently on his Facebook postings.
The vulgar language of some of his Facebook posts, especially in attacks against Republicans and ‘tea party’ activists, drew some of the sharpest anti-Thorne comments before the county Commissioners on Tuesday. [Cecil Times is too civil to repeat some of the Facebook postings’ language here, but there are references to a male body part, cusswords and other verbal excesses.]
In testimony to the county commissioners, Millie LeCorte called Thorne “potty-mouthed” and said his “derogatory, inflammatory and obscene language” reflected badly on his own character and that of commissioners who would appoint him to such a post.
“He’s a radical extremist and spews hatred,” said Donna Caudell, a leader of the Patriots, citing comments attacking Republicans and ‘tea party’ supporters. She said other comments indicated he would support a state or federal government takeover of local planning decisions, such as the proposed “Plan Maryland” state initiative that has been strongly opposed by all the county commissioners.
Jackie Gregory, another leader of the local tea party group, said the real concern was how much money Thorne’s positions have already cost Cecil County in legal fees and how much more taxpayers might have to pay to defend his actions on the planning panel.
“That’s my money,” she said. “How much more are the people of Cecil County going to have to pony up in legal fees?”
But Thorne supporters from ARCA and the Cecil Land Use Alliance (CLUA) defended him.
Sally Cairns, a former planning commission member aligned with the land use groups, said Thorne was “caring, knowledgeable and easy to talk to.”
Ken Jenkins of Colora said that “some people have tried to inject politics into this” but Thorne “is the best person for the job.”
Carol Wohner said Thorne was “level-headed, responsible” and “trustworthy.”