Mullin Blames Ousted Cecil County Economic Development Director for Lack of BRAC Business
Cecil County Commissioners President James Mullin (R-1) claimed Saturday that Vernon Thompson was ousted as county economic development director because he didn’t “hook” military contractors to locate in Cecil County as part of the BRAC military expansion at Harford County’s Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Speaking before a meeting of a church group in Earleville, Mullin asserted that “a majority” of the commissioners “felt we needed a change of quarterback.” He contended that Thompson was to blame for military contractors choosing to locate in APG’s home county while “Cecil County got zero.”
Mullin made a similar pitch to the county’s Economic Development Commission a few days earlier. But the EDC wasn’t buying it: they agreed to send a letter to Thompson expressing their appreciation for his many successful efforts to promote economic development in the county. The EDC was not consulted in advance before Mullin and his usual voting partners, Commissioners Michael Dunn (R-3) and Diana Broomell (R-4), exercised their majority muscle to oust Thompson.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/08/cecil-county-commissioners-oust-vernon-thompson-economic-development-chief-smipkins-get-even-for-political-independence/ ]
“That’s just an excuse,” Joyce Bowlsbey, a member of the executive committee of the EDC, said of Mullin’s claim. She said it was clear that political, rather than substantive, factors were responsible for the decision to oust Thompson.
Thompson long ago ran afoul of the Mullin commissioner majority’s state political mentors, Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Michael Smigiel, both R-36th District. Thompson opposed the Smipkins on several state legislative items pertaining to Cecil County and Thompson’s side won in Annapolis.
Meanwhile, the county’s EDC sought, but did not receive, assurances from Mullin that the panel, which consists of business and community leaders, would have a role in selection of a new economic development director, Bowlsbey said. She served on a 2004 review panel that interviewed candidates and forwarded to county commissioners a short list of the top candidates for economic development director. Thompson was selected in that process.
Mullin’s sudden assertion that BRAC was the reason for Thompson’s ouster is not borne out by any previous public comments or even in the rapid-fire closed-door decision. The move to get rid of Thompson was brought up and voted upon with minimal discussion that did not bring up BRAC, according to informed sources.
During a public meeting of Thompson with commissioners several weeks ago, none of them raised any concerns about the BRAC process or questioned Thompson on that point.
Speaking to the church group, Mullin declared that “we always had a fish on the hook but it seemed the fish spit the hook out” with regard to possible BRAC-related contractors looking at Cecil County. “We didn’t capture what we needed to capture.”
Mullin claimed that Harford County obtained 67 new military contractors locating in that county while Newark, DE “got 23.” Harford County’s tally is confirmed with information from the Chesapeake Science and Security Corridor (CSSC) agency that is an umbrella group co-coordinating BRAC economic development activities in the region, but his assertions about Newark are not.
Furthermore, Mullin’s oversimplification fails to recognize the unique demands of the BRAC defense contracting world that often requires on-base locations and security and telecommunications services not available in Cecil County.
In CSSC documents dated July, 2011, the tally was 62 new defense contractors moving to Harford County as part of BRAC but the county now counts 67.
BRAC-related documents cite the need for “secure compartmentalized information facilities” to accommodate classified research and private contractor work. No such facilities exist in Cecil County, while Harford County has a huge and unique “Government and Technology and Enterprise” (GATE) office and research complex located within the security perimeter of APG, under a lease agreement with the Army.
Private developers have also built multiple ready-to-lease office parks within a few miles of the APG complex that have attracted other contractors to Harford County.
In contrast, Cecil County’s BRAC Advisory Panel concluded in July, 2007 that there was virtually no commercial office space available in Cecil County’s Route 40/I-95 growth corridor to attract BRAC-related contractors.
“There is a consensus that the County does not presently have available a sufficient stock of commercially and industrially zoned land, located within the Growth Area, which is fully approved and permitted and available for immediate use. The lack of commercial office space is particularly acute: there is practically no stock of spec commercial office space within the Growth Area,” the advisory panel found.
Shortly after that report, one facility—40,000 square feet of potential office and commercial space in the Principio business park and dubbed the “Cecil Technology Campus”—was built in Perryville and is currently available.
Mullin claimed during his Saturday speech that the Principio space had adequate infrastructure to attract potential BRAC contractors. But other sources said the space lacks the high speed internet and telecommunications services that military contractors demand and expect and can easily find in Harford County.
Harford County also provides special transportation services to BRAC employers and workers, including van pools, commuter assistance and ‘guaranteed ride home’ services. Cecil County lacks such services and has minimal public transit.
“We didn’t have deep pockets developers willing to invest in Cecil County” to build the types of facilities available in Harford, said Cecil County Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5). Hodge chaired the land use subcommittee of the BRAC Advisory Panel that issued the 2007 report.
Hodge said Mullin’s new BRAC blame claims were trying to make Thompson a “scapegoat” for a political decision that in fact had nothing to do with BRAC.
Contacted by Cecil Times, Thompson declined to comment for this article but he said he would have things to say after he is officially off the county payroll later this month.