Cecil County Commish Do Charter Cha-Cha On Funds for Transition to New Form of Government
The Cecil County commissioners had a dance party Tuesday, performing their version of the Charter Cha Cha as they tried out different steps before deciding to abandon the dance altogether. After tossing around various numbers, the usual 3-2 majority decided that no money should be set aside as a contingency for unforeseen expenses in the transition to charter government later this year.
County Budget Director Craig Whiteford put the music on the stereo, suggesting a $500,000 set-aside out of currently unallocated county reserve funds for unforeseen possible costs associated with the transition to charter government after this November’s elections. Since the county is about to close its books on the current fiscal year, he suggested that the commissioners provide budgetary “guidance” on carrying over a Charter costs set-aside into the new budget year that begins on July 1.
Whiteford pointed out that none of the money could be spent without the commissioners—or the new County Council/County Executive who will be in charge as of December—voting to approve a budget amendment to transfer the money from an “unassigned” category to actual expenditures under the budget.
Step, step, three steps in place: cha cha cha.
Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) hit the dance floor first, saying she didn’t like the music but would do a few small steps: $15,000 only to cover possible consultations with the lawyer who is an expert on charter government and who had advised the citizens’ panel that crafted the charter document.
Broomell, who strongly opposed the shift to charter government that was approved overwhelmingly by county voters in 2010, said charter was “sold” to the voters as being cost-neutral or even cheaper than the current Commissioner form of government. She said she was concerned the money could be used as “an excuse to increase government.”
Broomell lost her bid for the new County Executive position in the April Republican primary. However, she still has two years left on her current commissioner term and will have a seat on the new County Council.
Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2), who won the GOP primary for county executive, said that $15,000 was not adequate and the commissioners needed to make sure “the transition to charter government is successful.”
“It’s not a cookie jar…it’s not a slush fund,” said Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5), who is a candidate in November to retain his seat on the new County Council. “In reality, this is an accounting principle” and “it is good budgetary sense” to plan ahead for possible unforeseen costs in the transition process. He said there were still many unanswered questions, such as legal services that will be required by the County Council and the new Executive.
Commissioner James Mullin (R-1), who lost his Republican primary for re-election and will be out of a job after the November election, said he was “not a fan of this big number…I’m probably a fan of deleting it.”
However, he then suggested a figure of $100,000, and Moore and Hodge indicated they would accept that figure. But then, the music speeded up and the cha-cha-ing got a bit messy.
First, the commissioners voted on Broomell’s plan for a limited $15,000 allocation but it failed as Hodge, Moore and Mullin voted no while Broomell and Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3) supported it.
One, two, cha cha cha…
Then Moore picked up on Mullin’s suggestion for a $100,000 allocation and made a motion to approve that figure, which Hodge also endorsed. But Mullin surprised her by voting against the $100,000, joined by Broomell and Dunn. One, two, cha cha cha…
“I’m confused,” Moore said, pointing out that Mullin had proposed the figure he then voted against.
“I threw it out for discussion,” Mullin explained.
Then, Mullin offered a motion to delete all money for Charter transition and Broomell and Dunn joined him with their votes. Hodge and Moore voted no.
One, two, cha cha cha…
“I’m just going to say it,” Moore began, “What I sense is you’re trying to strangle the government moving forward” and setting up Charter government to “fail.”
In practical terms, the fate of future expenditures to facilitate the transition to Charter government depends more on the outcome of the November election than the decision Tuesday to delete the budget set-aside.
Moore faces Democrat Pam Howard, the former county Treasurer, in the general election for county executive, and both Moore and Howard have been committed to making Charter work smoothly. But the future make-up of the County Council could determine whether funds are made available for possible transition expenses.
Hodge is facing Democrat James Crouse, the former Elkton mayor, in November. Dr. Alan McCarthy is running as a Republican against a little-known Democrat, Pamela Bailey, in District 1. Hodge and McCarthy are strong supporters of the Charter form of government.
If Moore wins as County Executive, her Council seat will be filled from a list of three candidates submitted by the Republican Central Committee, which is controlled by the Smipkin political machine, led by Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, both R-36, who vehemently opposed charter government.
Coupled with Dunn and Broomell, a Smipkin-picked Council member would be expected to oppose any spending that would advance the cause of Charter, in a slightly re-aligned version of the current “Three Amigos” voting bloc.
As the old Fred Astaire song and dance goes, “I won’t dance, don’t ask me…”