Cecil County Commish Dunn, Broomell Launch Partisan Snipes at Colleague Candidates
In the run-up to the April 3 primary election, in which all but one of the Cecil County Commissioners is a candidate for one office or another, expect the unexpected. On Tuesday, the lone non-candidate– the perpetually silent Michael Dunn (R-3)– suddenly launched a scripted diatribe against Commissioners Tari Moore (R-2) and Robert Hodge (R-5) while Diana Broomell (R-4) piled on Hodge.
It was a stunning performance that highlighted Dunn’s narrow views of the First Amendment, concurrence with closed-door actions on expenditure of taxpayer funds, and his adherence to an “enemies’ list” perspective on the conduct of county government business. For Broomell’s part, it was yet another attempt to rescind previously approved actions with a verbal demand but no written proposal, as part of a slam against Hodge.
And for the county’s two print news publications—the Cecil Whig and the Cecil Guardian—it was a window on the competition for lucrative government advertising, and some politicians’ perception of the line between editorial independence and taxpayer-funded rewards or punishments for news coverage.
Moore and Broomell are competing for the Republican nomination for County Executive, while Hodge is a candidate for re-election, to what will be a County Council seat in District 5 under the new Charter form of government that will be installed after this year’s elections.
James Mullin (R-1), president of the current commissioners’ board and a candidate for re-election, sat by silently as Dunn and Broomell launched their attacks during the “commissioner comments” time at the end of Tuesday morning’s worksession, which is usually reserved for commendations for Boy Scouts and similar non-controversial matters. (Mullin, Dunn and Broomell have been a majority voting bloc, known as the “Three Amigos,” who have usually been at odds with Hodge and Moore.)
Dunn– who usually says nothing at worksessions and is generally absent from all meetings except the basic Tuesday worksession and biweekly evening Commissioner sessions– suddenly sprang into verbal action on Tuesday 3/6/12, reading from a prepared text, to accuse Moore and Hodge of impropriety over their campaign contributions.
Dunn’s wail Tuesday involved recent closed-door meetings at which commissioners discussed where to advertise the voluminous list of properties delinquent on county taxes. The Cecil Whig has had a lock on that profitable printing/publishing endeavor but the newcomer Cecil Guardian submitted a bid for the job that its publisher, Bill DeFreitas, wrote in an editorial last week was lower in cost. The Guardian has successfully jumped through hoops for over a year to qualify as a general circulation newspaper eligible under state law for county legal ads.
Nevertheless, a recent closed-door 3-2, “Three Amigos” vote by the county commissioners, gave the work to the Whig, according to the Guardian editorial, which railed against spending more taxpayer money for the advertising than the lower price that the Guardian proposed.
Enter Dunn: he declared Tuesday that he opposed placing county government advertising in The Guardian because he thought it had “crossed the line of decency and good taste in its editorials” and said he was “uncomfortable with having the county represented by a so-called newspaper that prints such blatant incendiary propaganda.”
Dunn’s statement also declared, “I will be damned before I let the taxpayers of Cecil County subsidize this garbage with their money.”
The Cecil Guardian did not endorse Dunn in his campaign for County Commissioner in 2010 and also editorialized against his former employer and mentor, Delegate Mike Smigiel, (R-36), in his re-election bid for delegate in 2010. Dunn and Mullin are firmly aligned with the Smipkin political machine tied to Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) while Broomell usually but not always votes the Smipkin line.
The Whig also did not endorse Dunn or Smigiel but has generally taken a softer editorial tone on the Commissioners and never uses the terms “Smipkins” or “Three Amigos” to describe the current ruling alliance. (Since the Cecil Times is online-only and doesn’t have a print product in this ad fight, we’re only too happy to use those terms to call the alliance what it is.)
Because of the secret session vote, it was not revealed how much more taxpayers would have to pay because of the Dunn coalition’s decision to place ads with the Whig instead of the Guardian.)
Meanwhile, Dunn tried to attack Moore and Hodge for voting against him and his allies in the “Three Amigos” majority and claimed they were swayed to their positions by past campaign donations from the publisher of the Guardian.
However, a Cecil Times review of state Elections Board official records of donations and dates shows Dunn’s assertions are questionable.
Moore received just $300 in her 2010 campaign for county commissioner from a business, Graphics Ink, Inc., headed by Bill DeFreitas, the Cecil Guardian publisher. Hodge received $1,600 in donations from that business– at the time, just a printing concern that had not yet produced a print newspaper– in Hodge’s 2008 commissioner campaign, state records show.
In contrast, there were over $2,700 in donations to Dunn mostly linked to two Smipkin campaign entities financed by Smigiel, Pipkin and/or Mullin, that propelled Dunn into elected office. In addition Dunn benefited from campaign materials that included him on a “slate” of candidates tied to the Smipkin machine and financed [with $6,500] primarily by Pipkin and Mullin.
Dunn’s diatribe miffed Moore, who lambasted Mullin for allowing it to proceed at the meeting. “I’m appalled that you are allowing such a personal attack,” she told Mullin.
Moore said that Dunn’s attacks were “nothing more than an attempt to divert attention” from legitimate issues. “My vote is not up for sale, never has been, never will be,” an angry but controlled Moore said.
DeFreitas, the Guardian publisher, told Cecil Times he doubted that Dunn wrote his statement himself. “It is my right as an American citizen to donate to any candidate who I feel would do the best job as long as I do so within the federal and state campaign finance and election rules,” DeFreitas said.
“The Guardian gets comments every week from our readers how accurate our writers are about subject matter” in their articles,” the publisher said, adding, “maybe the Smipkins should change their ways and they won’t have a problem with the press.”
Meanwhile, just after Dunn’s attack, Broomell tried to slam Hodge by re-opening a long approved road work project, demanding– without written documentation or motions– an immediate Commissioners’ vote to cease work on a previously approved capital improvement road project.
She said she wanted to stop the project because of community concerns and claimed the roadwork would benefit a property owned by Hodge. County public works officials said engineering work on the project had already begun. Mullin said the commissioners could review the matter in the next few days as they begin discussions of the Fiscal 2013 capital improvement budget.