Cecil County Road Variances: Hours of Talk, a Court Faceslap, and Commissioners Still Stall
The Cecil County Circuit Court told the county commissioners in no uncertain terms to butt out of political decisions, instead of professional engineering judgments, on road code variances, but some current commissioners still haven’t gotten the message after multiple discussions recently and a new 14-page email from the county’s director of public works.
It was déjà vu, with a twist, Tuesday at a public worksession when Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) continued her long-standing demand to inject the county commissioners into decisions on approvals of variances from the county’s road code, which governs specifications, materials and designs standards for roadways. Currently, the professional engineers of the county’s Department of Public Works review requests for variances, and statistics show very few, if any, variances have been issued in recent years.
[SEE previous Cecil Times article here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/08/cecil-county-dpw-hailed-as-heroes-for-irene-response-commissioner-broomell-disses-dpw-on-road-code-again/ ]
Under current procedures, if anyone is unhappy with a variance, or the denial of a variance, the decision by DPW can be appealed to the Circuit Court for legal review. But Broomell wants the County Commissioners to make the decision, as they did in the past until a scathing 2007 court ruling that, in essence, called the Commissioners political hacks with no factual or professional basis for their decisions.
Broomell’s adamant campaign to put the commissioners into the thick of engineering decisions has consumed multiple hours of public worksessions and countless hours of staff time for detailed documentary information and data.
But Commissioners’ President James Mullin (R-1) has been reluctant to shut the campaign down, despite his dispassionate assessment of the matter during a recent public speech before a church group in Earleville. At that event, he explained Broomell’s position, without taking sides, and told the group he was uncertain “how that will play out.”
Yet when faced with an opportunity to put the matter to a vote on Tuesday, Mullin backed down and asked for yet another delay and requested “two paragraphs” to explain the matter, despite a 14-page email from DPW director Scott Flanigan that detailed the issue, the court decision, and offered a compromise professional review panel to defuse the issue.
Flanigan wrote that if the commissioners wanted a convenient out, they could create a “road code board of appeals” consisting of independent professional engineers and experts to review decisions by the professional staff of the county DPW. In that way, decisions would at least be “based on technical, not political, considerations.”
Included in Flanigan’s lengthy report was the 2007 decision of the Circuit Court, which prompted a previous Board of Commissioners to opt out of the road code variance process entirely and defer to the professional engineers of DPW. That court ruling provided a scathing assessment of a previous Commissioners’ Board decision to reject a variance and noted that the move, initiated by former Commissioner Phyllis Kilby (D) – a longstanding political friend of Broomell– was “hardly the model of lucidity.”
The court opinion declared that “the [commissioners’] decision reads like the narrative of a carnival shell game. The prize may be under this one and is certainly under either this one, or this one, or this one. How is anyone to determine why the Board [of Commissioners] made its decision and what the aggrieved parties failed to demonstrate at the variance hearing?”
But the court’s opinion that facts and professional expertise, not politics, should guide road code decisions fell on some deaf ears Tuesday.
“Are any of us engineers,” inquired Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2). She said she was “adamantly opposed” to substituting political judgments for professional expertise in such decisions.
“We were elected to make these hard decisions,” Broomell countered. “We should not be deferring it.”
“We need to start to move forward and not be re-hashing the past,” Moore replied.
But Mullin’s refusal to call a vote and his directive for “two paragraphs” ultimately put off a decision yet again.