Falcioni, New Broomell Appointee to Cecil County Ethics Panel, to be Chair After Two Members Resign
A Cecil Times Special Report
Valerie Falcioni, a new Cecil County Ethics Commission member appointed last December, is slated to take over the chairmanship of the panel this week, after two long-term members resigned recently.
The three remaining members of the five-seat panel were all appointed last December. Falcioni is a longtime friend of Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) and another new member, Walt Rozanski, has donated to Broomell’s political campaigns. The third new member is William (Bruce) Hemphill, an Elkton lawyer.
The opening came after Jason Allison, an Elkton lawyer and longtime panel member who had been serving as acting chairman since January, submitted his resignation on May 2. In an interview with Cecil Times, Allison said he resigned for personal reasons, citing the recent “serious illness” of his wife, Dr. Cydney Teal, who is chief medical officer at Union Hospital, and his responsibilities to help care for the couple’s two young children while also running his law practice.
“For me, it was just becoming more time-consuming than I had to give,” he said of the ethics panel duties.
Another carry-over ethics panel member, Diana Gillig, subsequently submitted her resignation, citing personal reasons and work demands on her time.
As a result, the three new members will meet formally on Thursday to ratify what Falcioni told Cecil Times was an informal agreement among the three remaining members to name her as chairman for the rest of Allison’s one-year term as chair.
Under a resolution approved by the County Commissioners last December, members of the ethics panel were assigned staggered terms, which is a requirement of the county ethics code to ensure continuity. But Broomell came back in early March and pushed through a revision of the previously approved terms of office to give the three newest members the longest terms of office.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/03/cecil-county-commish-ok-broomell-bid-to-give-new-ethics-panel-members-priority/ ]
The recent resignations and empty seats on the ethics panel come at a significant time, as members are reviewing proposed changes in the new ethics code, which was adopted last year after a lengthy review and drafting process required by changes in state law. The ink was barely dry on the new county ethics code when Broomell began a campaign to re-write the requirements, especially on financial disclosure for county department heads and attorneys doing work for the county government.
Broomell’s proposals have shifted, depending on which meeting of the commissioners she was speaking at, but in essence she wants county department heads to file the same very detailed disclosures required of elected officials such as County Commissioners—including financial holdings, bank accounts, debts, business operations and property ownership by officials and their spouses. At one point, she sought to impose the same standard on attorneys but backed down from that idea, which the state ethics commission had opposed in a written comment to the county.
Two other revisions proposed by Broomell are:
–Requiring volunteer members of county advisory panels, including the Ethics Commission, and attorneys acting as independent contractors providing legal services to county agencies and the Commissioners, to file “the same form as employees” of the county for ethics disclosures; and
-–Requiring all members of the Ethics Commission to receive a copy of any complaint filed with the panel.
Broomell tried to force through a vote of the County Commissioners on her proposals but an unusual 4-1 majority decided to let the Ethics Commission review the proposed changes and make recommendations to the County Commissioners before a formal vote was conducted.
[SEE previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/02/cecil-county-commish-to-broomell-hurry-up-and-wait-for-ethics-panel-review-of-demands-to-re-write-new-code/
Consequently, the ethics panel is aiming for a July 1 date to submit its recommendations to the Commissioners. Falcioni said the panel was about “two-thirds” of the way through the review and would have to submit the proposed revisions to state ethics authorities for their review and approval before presenting the recommendation to the county Commissioners.
Falcioni said she did not anticipate any problems with the state review since the expected recommendations are “not really different than the state required minimum” for ethics standards.
Broomell may have jumped the gun on claiming, at a recent commissioners’ meeting, that the ethics panel supported her proposals. Deliberations of the ethics panel are supposed to be confidential. Subsequently, Broomell corrected herself and said the panel had not yet approved her proposals.
Falcioni and Rozanski are frequent attendees, and sometime note-takers, at County Commissioner worksessions, including meetings at which Broomell has accused fellow commissioners of alleged “ethics” violations. Recently, Falcioni has been absent but Rozanski was present a week ago when Broomell accused Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) of ethics conflicts over a longstanding legal dispute between the county and the town of North East over a county-town water service agreement and the rates the town charges county residents living outside town limits.
Broomell accused Hodge of “conflict of interest” for pressing legal challenges before the state Public Service Commission, asking the PSC to regulate permissible rates for county residents served by the town water supplies, because he owns properties served by the town.
In fact, a Cecil Times review of voluminous documents filed in the matter before the PSC, shows the case was filed in 2008, when Bill Manlove was president of the county Commissioners. Other documents in the PSC case file show that the county has objected to the town’s policy of charging non-town residents double the rate of town residents back to 2005, when Nelson Bolender chaired the Commissioners panel. Part of the objections relate to economic development efforts, which are stymied by the high water rates charged by the town to areas in the growth corridor.
Efforts to negotiate a solution over the years have failed, with the result that the county has asked the PSC to treat the town’s rates for out-of-town residents the same way that it regulates a private company providing water and that must show a reasonable and cost-based cause for the rates it charges. A hearing was held before the PSC on the case earlier this month but no decision has been rendered by state regulators.
After Broomell’s assertions last week, Hodge told her, “I would encourage you to file a complaint with the Ethics Commission if you truly believe there is a conflict of interest…instead of making broad accusations and innuendo.”
During the exchange, Rozanski, who sits on the supposedly independent ethics panel that would review and evaluate any such complaint, was in the audience and listening intently.