Cecil County Commish Mired, Again, in Broomell Demands for Ethics Code Do-Over
Cecil County Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) tried again Tuesday to pressure the county board to yield to her constant demands to re-write the new county ethics code adopted a few months ago. But this time, her insistence on an immediate “up or down vote”—without a written document showing just what she wanted a vote on—didn’t pass muster.
But the issue still wasn’t put to rest and will again consume more commissioners’ time and taxpayers’ funds for advertising and other costs, since Commissioners Board President James Mullin (R-1) yet again declined to stand up to Broomell and cut off her months-long “do over” campaign. He made a few stabs at disagreeing with Broomell but when it came to votes and motions, he came off as indecisive and a bit confused, with Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) asking him at one point, “Do you know what you just voted on?”
It was a morning of déjà vu all over again (apologies to Yogi Berra) as Broomell yet again pushed her demands. At the end of the convoluted session, a majority of the commissioners refused to put the matter to rest for a year; agreed to provide a list of their “concerns” to the mostly new membership of the county Ethics Commission for them to review and comment upon; and agreed to put out for a public hearing in the next few weeks whatever changes Broomell wants to make, if she puts them in writing so county officials can advertise to the public just what amendments she wants.
A new county ethics code was adopted, 3-2, last fall under a mandate from the state to toughen financial disclosure and conflict of interest rules especially for elected officials. Before the ink was even dry, Broomell, who voted against adoption of the code, launched a “do-over” campaign to exceed the new state rules, with provisions especially aimed at county government department heads.
She has alleged that unnamed “constituents” think department heads are profiting from their positions and she wants department heads to file detailed disclosures of personal, and spousal, financial information including property ownership, mortgages, debt and business interests that are the same as required of elected commissioners. The state law makes no such demands.
Broomell also has made conflicting demands—changing within minutes at Tuesday’s worksession—that attorneys working as “independent contractors” for the county should have to file the same detailed disclosures as elected officials. But then a few minutes later, she said they should only file a less detailed disclosure filed by volunteers on county boards and commissions, and when called on the inconsistency by Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2), Broomell asserted, “I didn’t say that.”
In fact, Broomell has demanded the same disclosure requirements for attorneys as county commissioners repeatedly at public meetings. However, that demand was rejected by the legal counsel for the state Ethics Commission. [See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/12/cecil-county-ethics-code-broomell-asks-do-over-again-hodge-demands-she-put-up-or-shut-up-mullin-wusses-out/ ]
In the recent past, Broomell has also insisted that, despite confidentiality rules, County Commissioners should be informed in detail of any complaints filed with the Ethics Commission. But on Tuesday, she modified that proposal to state only that all Ethics Commission members, and not just the chairman, be given detailed information at the time a complaint is filed.( Recently, Broomell got a longtime friend appointed to the ethics panel–Valerie Falcioni—who now frequently attends commissioner worksessions and is seen taking notes.)
Even as her proposals shifted Tuesday, Broomell demanded an “up or down vote,” in an apparent effort to get fellow commissioners—especially those who have questioned her actions and are candidates in this year’s election—on record as disagreeing with her agenda.
“I ran on a platform of transparency and a stronger ethics process,” said Broomell, who was been a county commissioner for about a year and recently filed as a candidate for County Executive in this year’s election. Fellow Commissioner Moore is also a candidate for County Executive, and she and Broomell will be facing each other—and five other candidates—in the April Republican primary. Hodge is a candidate for re-election as a commissioner/County Council member this year.
On Tuesday, Broomell repeatedly cited Mullin’s past comments, when he voted against her to approve the new ethics code last October, that Commissioners could “revisit” the code to make changes.
But Mullin, who is seeking re-election this year in District 1, complained that he didn’t think that she would move within weeks of the code’s adoption to re-consider it. “I thought maybe six months to a year to revisit this,” Mullin said. “I thought that we could let it season a little bit.”
Laughing, Broomell declared, “It’s been seasoned.”
Hodge offered Mullin two face-saving outs, but Mullin fumbled the gifts.
First, Hodge made a motion to decide whether to consider any changes to the ethics code at this time. But Mullin declined to put the matter to rest for now, and instead teamed with Broomell and fellow member of the “Three Amigos” majority faction of the board, Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3), to allow changes to proceed. (Hodge and Moore opposed Commissioners’ consideration of changes now.)
Then, Hodge offered a motion to allow Commissioners to submit suggested “changes” in the ethics code to the newly appointed Ethics Commission, for members’ review and comments. That motion passed unanimously.
But, not taking the hint or the gift he was offered, Mullin declined to cut off further action by the Commissioners until the ethics panel has had a chance to review the suggestions. After much hemming and hawing about “protocol,” Mullin allowed Broomell to come back with a written statement of her concerns to be offered as amendments to the ethics code, and put out to a public hearing.
Only after Hodge and Moore –and even Broomell’s pal Dunn—said any amendments to the ethics code should be submitted in writing , did Broomell reluctantly, and temporarily, step to the sidelines in her campaign for an immediate up or down vote on her verbal demands.
“Are we OK with that,” a nervous Mullin inquired, casting a sidelong glance at Broomell.
“Apparently,” she responded with a frown.