Smipkins Install Crony as Cecil County Towns Rep on Regional Panel; Mayors Cry Foul
A Cecil Times Special Report
The mayors of Cecil Countyâ€™s eight municipalities have signed a letter protesting the sudden installation of Michael A. Dawson, a new Perryville town commissioner, as the representative of the countyâ€™s towns on the Upper Shore Regional Council. The action was taken, in apparent violation of state law, late last week during an unannounced meeting of the panel convened by members of the Smipkin political organization, with which Dawson is aligned.
It was just the latest in a long string of sub-rosa actions involving the USRC, including failure to notify the public of its meetings, attempts to close meetings to the public and press contrary to the stateâ€™s Open Meetings Act, failure to post meeting minutes on its website for years, and conducting other business outside public view.
During the winter convention of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) at a resort in Cambridge, a meeting of the USRC was convened by State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36). County Commissioners from the three counties covered by the regional bodyâ€”Cecil, Kent and Queen Anneâ€™s counties– attended but there was no public notice in advance, on the USRCâ€™s website or other public means.
The installation of Michael A. Dawson (MAD) â€“not to be confused with Michael W. Dawson (MWD), who ran as a Constitution Party candidate for state delegate last yearâ€”shocked Cecil Countyâ€™s mayors, who had not been consulted in advance. In fact, state enabling legislation that created the regional panel and the USRCâ€™s own website state that the representative of the towns is â€śappointed by municipalities of Cecil County.â€ť
James Eberhardt, the mayor of Perryville, told Cecil Times that the mayors of all eight towns in the county have signed a letter challenging the appointment of Dawson and asserting that the townsâ€™ choice is Cecilton Mayor Joseph Zang. Zangâ€™s mayoral predecessor, John Bunnell, had been the previous townsâ€™ representative to the USRC.
â€śMost of us didnâ€™t understand how they did what they did,â€ť Eberhardt said of his talks with fellow mayors about the installation of Dawson. He said the legislation is clear that the choice is that of the townsâ€™ leadership, not Sen. Pipkin or other USRC members.
The selection of Michael A. Dawson is particularly irksome to Perryville town leaders since he has persistently picked fights with the mayor and other council members on a variety of policies and procedures in the few months he has been a town council member. Dawson ran unsuccessfully on the Smipkin political slate for a county commissioner seat in 2010 but won a seat on the county Republican Central Committee as part of the Smipkin slate. He has also worked as an aide to Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) [See previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/12/cecil-county-politics-a-tale-of-two-dawsons-same-name-different-politics/ ]
The attempt to install Dawson on the regional panel is just the latest in a string of appointments of Smipkin-affiliated people to various Cecil County boards and commissions and removal of people considered unfriendly to the political aims of Pipkin, Smigiel and their allies on the Cecil County Board of Commissioners.
â€śWe were not even notified that there was going to be a meeting and election of officersâ€ť by the USRC, Eberhardt said.
He said the mayors get together at meetings of the Maryland Municipal League and in the past had decided that the mayor of Elkton would represent all the towns at the WILMAPCO regional planning agency that meets in Wilmington, DE and that the Cecilton mayor would represent the towns at the USRC panel, which meets in Chestertown. Eberhardt said that division of labor was agreed upon because those towns were the closest to the meeting places geographically and that the countyâ€™s representatives would keep all the local mayors advised of issues discussed at the meetings.
Zang, the municipalitiesâ€™ designated representative to the USRC, said most of the mayors were â€śpretty upsetâ€ť when they learned over the weekend about the Dawson selection. â€śWhy do they continually have to stir the pot,â€ť he said of the state delegation from the 36th District.
Zang, a Republican, has been mentioned in local political circles as a possible challenger to Commissioner James Mullin (R-1) in this yearâ€™s election for what will become the First District County Council seat under the new charter form of government. Mullin, who is a member of and financial backer of the Smipkin organization, served as the chairman of the USRC until Kent County Commissioner William Pickrum was installed as the new chair at last weekâ€™s meeting.
Eberhardt said the mayors had a difficult time figuring out where to send their letter, since the USRCâ€™s phone has been disconnected, it has no executive director and its office in the Kent County Visitors Center is no longer occupied by the agency. He said officials in Chestertown advised him that they thought the USRC might be returning to the Visitors Center location soon, so that is where the letter was sent.
The USRC has been all but defunct since June, when its executive director, John A. Dillman, a longtime Pipkin ally, voluntarily left because the agency was virtually bankrupt. USRC has been the only one of the five regional councils in the state to face such financial and organizational problems and the state withheld $73,000 in state aid during the current fiscal year due to â€śorganizational issues.â€ť Cecil County taxpayers provide $12,000 a year to USRC, with the other two counties providing equal amounts.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2011/10/cecil-county-lawmakers-push-revival-of-upper-shore-council-state-withholds-funds-due-to-organizational-issues/
In a 10/25/11 letter, obtained by Cecil Times, the state Department of Business and Economic Development advised Mullin that the state agency â€śdecided to decline funding for this fiscal year.â€ť DBED also told Mullin that â€śThe council should resolve its organizational issues and carefully review its mission and scope of work. Once the council has had the opportunity to address and resolve those issues,â€ť DBED would consider providing funds in Fiscal 2013, which beings 7/1/12.
However, Cecil Times has learned that Smigiel protested the decision and demanded a meeting with state officials in November. A previous written â€śscope of workâ€ť offered last May was never publicly approved by the USRC but it was modified during a subsequent conference call last summer and then yet again modified behind closed doors and submitted to DBED near the end of the year, sources said.
Mullin said several weeks ago that a new â€śscope of workâ€ť had now been approved by DBED.
When state funds will actually be deposited to USRC and for what purposes is unclear, yet that did not stop Pipkin from pushing ahead last week to hire a new executive director. The new appointee, ratified by county commissioners serving on the USRC, was identified as Doris Mason, of Talbot County. Only one name was submitted to the panel and no resume of the candidate was provided, according to attendees.
A Doris Mason served as the â€śLabor Exchange Administratorâ€ť for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation at the Talbot Career Center in Easton. However, employees at the Center said Monday that Mason had left that position last August and they did not know where she could be located.