Cecil County Politics: Business, Bipartisan Leaders Seek Reform of Current Commissioners’ Board
There wasnâ€™t a â€śSmipkinâ€ť in sight Wednesday night when a new business-oriented political action committee held its first official meeting in Elkton to organize a campaign against the current ruling majority of the Cecil County Commissioners. But there was a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 300 people, a bipartisan turnout of business owners, current and former elected officials, and citizens, all seeking a new political day in the county.
Despite monsoon-like rain, the overflow crowd showed up at Mickâ€™s Crab House (the former Bentleyâ€™s) on Route 40 in Elkton to hear organizers of the new group, Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government (CBLBG) PAC, outline their goals to educate voters, recruit candidates and raise funds in the 2012 election season.
David K. Williams, chairman of the group, surveyed the crowd and declared the event â€śexcitingâ€ť and just the start of a new community initiative to organize citizens and business leaders to engage in county issue activism. â€śWeâ€™re going to be very political,â€ť he said, â€śbut weâ€™re not going to be partisan.â€ť He said Democrats, Republicans and independents were all welcome to become involved.
Indeed, the crowd was a broad mix of the local political spectrum. Republican Commissioners Robert Hodge (R-5) and Tari Moore (R-2), who are usually at odds with the current â€śSmipkinâ€ť majority alliance of the panel, attended. Also present were two Democratic former County Commissioners, Wayne Tome and Brian Lockhart, who lost their re-election bids in 2010, as well as retired Commissioner Bill Manlove (D-1). And state Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R-Cecil Harford) was in the audience, and greeted supporters of her recently announced â€śexploratory committeeâ€ť for a potential run for Congress in the 2nd District now represented by Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger.
Mario Gangemi, another leader of the group, criticized recent â€ścroniesâ€ť appointments to various advisory boards and panels by the three-member ruling majority of the County Commissioners that he said were made â€śonly for political retributionâ€ť against perceived enemies of the majority and their political allies.
At stake in the 2012 elections are two county commissioner seats, which will be converted to County Council seats after the 2012 election. And voters will also choose the first-ever County Executive of Cecil County under the Charter form of government approved overwhelmingly by voters last year.
The current five-member Board of Commissioners has become a 3-2 voting majority this year, after the election in 2010 of two new membersâ€”Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3)â€”who have been aligned with Board President James Mullin (R-1) on most issues. Both Dunn and Broomell are former legislative aides to Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) and all three Commissionersâ€”dubbed the â€śThree Amigosâ€ťâ€”have generally supported and advanced the political agenda of Smigiel and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36). That political machine has been dubbed the â€śSmipkinâ€ť organization.
The so-called â€śSmipkinâ€ť alliance has angered local business leaders on a broad range of issues, but especially on challenges to the sale of four county sewage treatment plants to the private Artesian firm, under a contract approved by the previous Commissioners. Broomell, with assistance from Smigiel, fought to kill the sale at the state Public Service Commission. The PSC and the stateâ€™s highest court approved the sale but the contract was scuttled this fall after Artesian concluded the current political â€śclimateâ€ť of the Commissioners could tie them up indefinitely in further challenges.
As a result, county taxpayers will be saddled with the costs of upgrading aging sewage treatment plants and extending infrastructure into the countyâ€™s Route 40/I-95 growth corridor. The lack of infrastructure has been a decades-long obstacle to economic and business development in Cecil County.
Leaders of the new PAC made it clear they will support Hodge in his re-election bid in 2012 and they are seeking an opponent to Mullin. Williams, who lives in the Chesapeake City area of Mullinâ€™s District 1, had been suggested by some sources as a potential challenger. But he told Cecil Times Wednesday he did not plan to seek the seat and would prefer to focus his efforts on the new PAC.
The PAC will seek to recruit candidates, review their qualifications for public office and raise funds to donate to the campaigns of candidates it endorses. â€śWe can make a difference in Cecil County,â€ť Williams said.
[See previous Cecil Times report on the CBLBG here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/11/cecilo-county-business-leaders-create-pac-to-support-2012-candidates/