Annapolis Legislation Gives Cecil County Headaches, but Rural “Coalition” Bid has Drawbacks

February 14, 2012

As long as the state General Assembly is in session, it seems that every week brings another litany of legislation that could cause headaches and costly mandates for Cecil County. County Commissioners heard about a legislative laundry list of troublesome proposals on Tuesday— and received an appeal from a controversial Frederick County official trying to enlist support for his lobbying efforts in Annapolis.

Pat Conway, Cecil County’s director of permits and inspections, outlined several legislative proposals that could impose costly regulatory burdens on the county as well as re-open one of the most contentious issues— residential fire sprinklers—that the local government has dealt with in recent years.

During the Cecil County Commissioners Tuesday worksession, Conway described state legislative proposals that could remove the county’s ability to “opt out” of an international building code mandating sprinklers. After months of heated debate—literally heated, including controlled fire demonstrations of sprinkler systems outside the county administration building—the county commissioners voted a year ago to rescind legislation adopted by a previous commissioners’ board mandating sprinklers in new single-family home construction.

Another legislative proposal would require the county to inspect residential balconies on a regular basis to evaluate potential safety hazards. Conway said the county does inspect properties upon complaints and in fact had forced a property owner to repair balconies on a 10-year old development two years ago. But the new mandate would require inspections, even without any complaints, on all residential properties with outdoor balconies.

“Where would this stop,” lamented Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4). “It’s the wrong direction.”

Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) said the proposal “shifts responsibility from the property owner to the county” and could open the county to lawsuits.

Against that backdrop, the commissioners received an appeal for the county to join with other largely rural counties to fight such legislative mandates in Annapolis.

Blaine Young, president of the Frederick County Board of Commissioners, invited Cecil County to join a “Maryland Rural Counties Coalition” to unite in opposition to legislative and executive actions in Annapolis that are considered harmful or costly to rural areas. In a 2/2/12 email to county officials, Young said that Allegany, Carroll and Washington counties, as well as his home county, had banded together to form the coalition.

The goal, Young wrote, is to “balance the decision-making process in Annapolis” so that rural counties’ voices are heard, to stand up to the “non-rural” counties that have more Delegates and Senators.

Published reports say that the group has hired a lobbyist, at participating counties’ taxpayers’ expense, to advance its agenda. But Young said in his letter to Cecil County officials that “there would be no financial obligation or requirement to your county for this endeavor.”

But before Cecil County officials enlist in Young’s coalition, commissioners should do a bit of homework on the controversial Young and consider how aligning with him might affect Cecil County’s image and credibility in the statewide political and business arena.

On his campaign website, Young says he “likes to stir the pot” and that is exactly what he has done as a local radio talk show host in Frederick, in addition to his duties as president of the county commissioners. His conservative chatterfest has featured a guest who used the word “bitch” on-air to describe a female political foe of Young, according to local news reports.

There have been dueling complaints filed with the county’s ethics commission and challenges to the propriety of Young using his talk show to advance his political agenda while serving on the county commission. Young has also advocated outsourcing many county government functions and firing county employees.

Young is also “honorary chairman” of a group, “We the People of Maryland,” that “advocates for each person’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Young’s is the only name that appears on the group’s website and just what the group is really doing and why it deserves donations is unclear. (The editor of Cecil Times recently received a lengthy printed letter, appealing for financial contributions to the group, that said it was written and signed by Young, but we tossed it into the trash so we can’t quote from it here.)

Without indicating awareness of Young’s controversial background, Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) said that commissioners should enter any alliance “with eyes wide open.” She said that the Maryland Association of Counties was upset with the lobbyist hired by Young’s rural alliance for claiming falsely that MACO had not spoken out against the governor’s “Plan Maryland” proposals to assert state control of local planning matters.

Commissioners’ Board President James Mullin (R-1) expressed support for Young’s alliance and said he would invite him to Elkton to speak about it with the county commissioners.

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One Response to Annapolis Legislation Gives Cecil County Headaches, but Rural “Coalition” Bid has Drawbacks

  1. Michael Garrity on February 23, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Thanks for the news about this important topic for Cecil County, and other rural Counties in Maryland.

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