Cecil County Commissioners Lob Appointments: Tennis, Anyone?

December 6, 2011

It was like an amateur tennis match Tuesday when the Cecil County Commissioners whacked around lists of appointees to several advisory boards and panels. At the end of the worksession match, the players and spectators were exhausted, their necks sore from following the conflicting balls lobbed back and forth, and some names on political enemies lists were ground into the clay of the court while others got dusted off and put back into play.

[UPDATE: But the morning match was upset after the team’s coaches, Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36)—who met with county commissioners on their 2012 legislative agenda in the afternoon— read the riot act to their three allies on the Commissioners board and demanded a do-over that would punish their political enemies, sources said. So at the evening meeting, the three-member majority complied and mopped up the court with their foes.]

[As a result, Carl Roberts, Joyce Bowlsbey and Gary Stewart– who had been cleared for re-appointment to the Economic Development Commission at the morning worksession– were booted off the panel Tuesday evening.]

Roberts, the former county schools superintendent who was an unsuccessful candidate in 2010 against Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4), was also ousted from the Bainbridge Development Corporation Board. Nelson Bolender, the chairman of the BDC and a former County Commissioner, also was not re-appointed to the panel.

The action came despite the fact that Roberts has been the key negotiator in developing a new agreement with the private developers of the long stalled project. A new pact, which is in sensitive final negotiations, according to sources, is necessary because of environmental pollution of the site that has stalled efforts to build the mixed-use residential and commercial re-development of the former Navy training center in Port Deposit.

“It’s unfair to remove such a key board member,” said Donna Tapley, executive director of the BDC. The loss of Roberts and Bolender would leave a void of experience in the complicated and tangled Bainbridge project leadership, she added.

In other key appointments, Broomell got a longtime friend and ally, Valerie Falcioni, a former physical therapy aide, named to the county’s Ethics Commission. Overall, the current three-member Ethics panel was expanded to five members as called for in a recently adopted new ethics code.

Meanwhile, after a series of lobs over and into the net, Roberts ended up getting a seat on the county’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) as part of a compromise because Broomell wanted to add to that panel Bill Kilby, head of the Cecil Land Trust group and husband of her longtime friend, former county Commissioner Phyllis Kilby.

[UPDATE: But that deal fell apart later, after Smigiel was seen waving his arms and angrily berating Mullin over what had happened at the worksession, sources said. ]

County Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3) who usually says little if anything at commissioner meetings, spoke more at Tuesday’s worksession on the appointments than he has on any other subject this year. He opposed Roberts and especially objected to allowing Joyce Bowlsbey to remain on the EDC.

Dunn has repeatedly attacked her in the past for her role as head of the citizens’ panel that drafted the Charter government plan that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2010, echoing the criticisms of his former employer, Del. Smigiel. Smigiel and Sen. Pipkin strongly opposed the shift to Charter government, which reduces the county’s reliance on permission from state lawmakers for many basic functions of government.

But at the end of the morning game, Bowlsbey got to keep her current EDC seat. She was present at the worksession and as the game evolved, one minute she was on the EDC, then off it, then back on the panel. [UPDATE: But when the match was re-played under the lights Tuesday night, the Mullin-Dunn-Broomell trio threw her off the panel again.]

The morning line-up for the EDC ended up being eight re-appointments and five new members. Re-appointed were Kenneth Lewis, of Union Hospital; Dr. Steven Pannill of Cecil College; Gary Stewart, of the Stewart and York Building Products companies; Roberts; Bowlsbey; Raymond “Chick” Hamm, a banker and community leader; Rupert Rosetti, a geologist and Broomell ally; and Norman Gaither. [UPDATE: But Roberts, Bowlsbey and Stewart were thrown off the panel at the evening meeting.]

New names are Andrew Jodlbauer, of the Elkton furniture company; Mike Travers, co-owner of Cecil DanceCenter; Bruce England, executive director of the Susquehanna Workforce Network; Bill Kilby; and Walter Buck.

Initially, Broomell and Dunn—with a nod from Commissioner James Mullin (R-1)—wanted to limit the number of appointees to the EDC and said any new names should replace current members, arguing that with a new economic development director expected to be hired soon that any expansion of the advisory panel should be left up to the new director. They wanted to remove Bowlsbey, Stewart and Roberts from the EDC.

But Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) said that argument was a smokescreen since the three top candidates for the director’s position are not from Cecil County and would have no idea who to select for such a local business advisory panel.

Hodge railed against what he called a pattern of “vindictive actions” in appointments made by the usual three-member voting majority of the Commissioners board. Broomell, Dunn and Mullin have become a voting bloc, dubbed locally as the “Three Amigos.”

Hodge said the trio was seeking to “eliminate people who have a difference of opinion” or who “ran against them in the last election.”

Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) said she was “very concerned’ that there was a pattern of “cronyism” in appointments this year and she objected to what she saw as efforts to “silence the voices of citizens that make you uncomfortable.”

Hodge said it was a slap in the face at the county’s largest land owners, the Stewart family, to remove Gary Stewart from the EDC when their properties are in the heart of the growth corridor and are crucial to economic development in the county.

Broomell said she wanted to see “fresh faces” on the EDC and she was “not trying to stifle their free speech.”

But a crack in the trio’s armor came when Mullin relented and said he would support keeping Gary Stewart on the panel. But that would have meant that one of the trio’s other “fresh faces”—such as Bill Kilby—would have to go if the number of members was to be limited as Broomell and Dunn had insisted.

So Broomell decided to yield to Hodge’s proposal to expand the total number of EDC members and not remove current members. Dunn was furious that that meant Bowlsbey would still have a seat.

[UPDATE: But Mullin and Broomell backed down from their earlier compromises Tuesday night. Mullin did not offer an explanation for his change of heart on the Stewart appointment while Broomell conceded she had made an error in initially agreeing to the expansion of the EDC.]

[UPDATE: Ironically, the brouhaha over the EDC appointments is much sound and fury signifying very little– other than the Smipkins desire to flex their political muscles. The EDC has always operated informally, with local business leaders welcome to attend meetings and participate in discussions even if they are not a formally appointed member. So Bowlsbey and Roberts could very well attend meetings and continue to participate in discussions. Stewart has been a less active member of the panel.]

On the Ethics panel, Hodge said it was important to have political balance and he supported naming two Democrats, two Republicans and one independent. Falcioni is a Republican as is a hold-over appointee, Diana Gillig. Jason Allison, an attorney who served on the current panel, is a Democrat and Bruce Hemphill, an Earleville resident and a lawyer, is also a Democrat. Hemphill rents office space in Elkton from Del. Smigiel and has contributed to his political campaigns. The independent member would be Walt Rozanski.

Broomell said she wanted to substitute Mike Dixon for Hemphill. But Hodge pointed out Dixon is a Republican and that would upset the political balance of the panel. Dixon is a historian and publishes a blog on Elkton town issues. Mullin pointed out that Dixon had failed to submit an application and resume for the ethics post despite being contacted twice by Mullin and asked to do so.

In other decisions, Dan Schneckenberger was not reappointed to the Susquehanna Workforce Network board. He openly criticized the Three Amigos in an op-ed article published in the Wilmington News-Journal several weeks ago.

Roberts re-appointment to the BDC had been rejected by the GOP majority of the District 36 state legislative delegation, led by Smigiel and Pipkin. The county’s state delegation gets to name one candidate but the actual appointment is made by the county Commissioners. Hodge had then proposed naming Roberts to fill another vacancy on the panel but the Three Amigos faction would not go along with that. Named to the BDC were Cynthia Rossetti, a re-appointee and Broomell ally; Joseph Brant, supported by the Town of Port Deposit; Chick Hamm; Barry Gray, a Port Deposit resident backed by Dunn; and Harry Lenderman, a former Marriott Corporation executive who was selected by the Dist. 36 delegation.

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5 Responses to Cecil County Commissioners Lob Appointments: Tennis, Anyone?

  1. vanna on December 7, 2011 at 6:08 am

    Why not place the names of applicants on a wheel and spin to determine appointees? This process could be called “Wheel of Misfortune.” Sell it to a TV network and use the income to offset the increased costs of government resulting from the “Three Amigos” mismanagement.

  2. Patrick Tuer on December 7, 2011 at 11:28 am

    I hope that Mullin, Dunn and Broommell realize that people are watching and tallying their moronic and silly actions. Leadership from these three is missing and depressing for any Cecil County resident (or former resident) who pays attention. I am certainly looking forward to the next election cycle, so that these three can realize that following the puppet strings of their leaders is not going to get them re-elected.

    I have lost confidence in this administration a long time ago. The only two who are doing a good job are Moore and Hodge. Kudos to them for having the actual ability to lead independently and put the citizens of Cecil County first. I would encourage the rest of the board to do the same.

  3. 1Citizen on December 7, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Mullin is so blatantly beholden to the Smipkins he can’t even put up a pretense of representing the citizens. Has he no shame? Heaven knows what they’ve promised him (or is it threatened him?) It will likely become evident someday.

    Yes sir, Boss! Don’t worry, even with Charter, you two will still run the plantation… er, county!

  4. TotallyDisgusted on December 7, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    If this stuff was on a TV movie, you would change the channel in disbelief of anything being so unbelievable and far-fetched…

  5. Ken Wiggins on December 8, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I suppose in politics, one of the perks is the ability to reward your friends and punish your enemies. I can accept this reality, but when it becomes, seemingly, the entire agenda, at the expense of the citizens, and the future of our County, it is real kindergarten stuff. Those who practice this kind of shortsighted politics are committing political suicide. Like eating doughnuts, it feels good for a minute, but there is a heavy price to pay.

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