Cecil County Commish Name Two Ethics Panel Members with ‘Secret’ Resumes; Panel Supports Broomell Revisions to Ethics Code

July 19, 2012

SHH—don’t tell anyone. The Cecil County Commissioners named two new members to the county’s Ethics Commission on Tuesday, but their applications seeking appointment, listing their resumes and why they wanted the post, are a secret.

For months, the commish have been having closed door meetings to discuss various appointments to boards and commissions, which they are permitted to do under the state’s Open Meetings Act when debating the relative merits of various candidates. But suddenly, the one word agenda item—“appointments”—appeared on Tuesday’s formal commissioner meeting schedule.

In rapid fire action with no verbal or written disclosure to the public of the appointees’ backgrounds or reasons for their selection, the commish approved two new members of the ethics panel: Mike Dixon and Robert Boonstoppel. The appointments were ratified without comment on a 4-member vote, with Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5) abstaining.

Cecil Times filed a written public information act request to obtain the applications which all candidates for appointments to county boards and commissions must fill out to be considered. However, in a written response from the county attorney, Norman Wilson, we were advised that the applications “should not be disclosed as they are protected under SG Section 10-616 (i) ‘personnel records.’ “

So citizens apparently have no right to know the background and motives of those who are to be the judge and jury of ethics matters in the county.

The county Ethics Commission is such an important panel that Commissioner Diana Broomell (R-4) worked to ensure that two of her most loyal followers, Valerie Falcioni and Walter Rozanski, got appointed several months ago. The third current member of the ethics panel is Bruce Hemphill, an Elkton lawyer who rents office space from Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) and has donated to his campaigns.

The two new vacancies on the ethics panel occurred several months ago when two long-term members resigned, for personal reasons.

Although no official public information was provided, Dixon is known in the county as a historian who has served on county and town historic review panels and publishes an occasional blog on Elkton town matters. He has also served as an unpaid, according to county budget records, public relations spokesman for the county’s Department of Emergency Services during natural disasters such as flooding.

Broomell had sought to appoint Dixon, who has donated to Smigiel’s campaign funds, previously to the ethics panel but he had not submitted a formal application for the post then.

Boonestoppel is a lawyer from Elkton. Online databases appear to identify him further as an environmental lawyer for the U.S. Army, serving as northeast regional counsel for environmental matters. In local political circles, he is unknown.

(Passed over for appointment was Frank Vari, a former Chesapeake City town councilman and unsuccessful candidate for mayor in the recent town election, sources said.)

Meanwhile, the county commissioners also considered yet again on Tuesday proposals by Broomell to re-write the county’s new ethics code. She has been agitating to revise the code again since days after the ink dried on an overhaul of the code approved by commissioners last year to comply with a new state mandate for an upgraded code.

In early February, Broomell sought to push through commissioners’ approval of her proposals but, in a rare instance, she lost that bid on a 4-1 vote as fellow commissioners thought it was a good idea to have the Ethics Commission review the proposed changes.

[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/ ]

Her most recent proposals were:

–Requiring county Department heads to file the same detailed financial disclosure reports required of elected officials, such as county commissioners, to reveal all their property, investment, debt and financial accounts and those of their spouses; (Broomell has made vague, broad accusations, citing “constituent concerns,” that some department heads may be benefitting financially from their positions);

–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.
Those proposals differ from some of her earlier demands, which would have required attorney independent contractors to file the same disclosures as elected officials, and required that the County Commissioners be given copies of all complaints filed with the ethics panel, despite county and state confidentiality rules to the contrary.

As expected, the three sitting members of the ethics panel recommended approval with only slight wording changes, after consulting with the State Ethics Commission, which approved the final version.

Falcioni said the county panel wanted to clarify that officials, such as the county health officer who already has to file a state disclosure statement as a state employee, should not have to file a separate county form because she sits on various local advisory panels by virtue of her health officer position.

Broomell tried to get commissioners to vote to approve the changes right away, saying “why wait” and “do it today.” However, she was informed that such changes would have to be open to citizen comment through a public hearing before a vote could be taken.

Moore suggested that members of the Ethics Commission should be required to file the same detailed financial disclosures as elected officials and department heads, since they will be reviewing and judging others.

Falcioni and Rozanski said they would not object to doing so, while Hemphill said he would have to check specific language on the forms so as not to conflict with his ethical duties as an attorney to protect attorney-client privilege.

The ethics discussion also extended to Falcioni, Rozanski and Broomell’s views of lobbyists, who are supposed to file reports with the county if they spend $100 on food, entertainment or gifts on any official in order to “influence” decision-making. No lobbyists have submitted such filings in recent years.

Falcioni said that anyone who “communicates” or “solicits others to communicate” with county officials should be considered a lobbyist. In response to a question from Hodge whether a business or the Chamber of Commerce contributing food or support to a group reception, such as to honor county employees, would fall under that rule, Rozanski indicated it would because the business or Chamber has an intent to “influence.”

Hodge said the tone of the discussion indicated that some panel members were trying to “nab” people and “try to trap someone” with “the intention of making an example of them,” when in fact most volunteers on county advisory panels are serving with no pay and are trying to help the county.

Broomell disagreed, saying that there was “a huge problem in this county with conflict of interest.”

Hodge asker her if, as she has often claimed without specifics, that there are conflicts of interest or ethical violations in the county, “have you filed” a formal complaint with the Ethics Commission? Broomell retorted, “I am contemplating filing those complaints but I haven’t made my decision yet.”

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2 Responses to Cecil County Commish Name Two Ethics Panel Members with ‘Secret’ Resumes; Panel Supports Broomell Revisions to Ethics Code

  1. Tracey Sampson on July 19, 2012 at 3:04 pm

    Broomell is right about “a huge problem in this county with conflict of interest”. She sees it everyday when she looks in the mirror.

  2. Hilary Ruske on July 19, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    I, too, was passed over for the volunteer appointment to the county ethics commission and, as I read this article, I can see why.

    I’m new to the county, as a BRAC mover in 2009, and recently completed the Cecil Leadership Institute (CLI) course from Cecil College. I was extremely impressed with the nearly unlimited potential for Cecil County to grow and prosper and felt it would be good to participate in the county activities after completing CLI. I’ve lived all over the US and in foreign countries as a member of the military and have seen many pluses and minuses in various government activities and have learned a lot of what is right and what can be done to improve things.

    However, I’m not politically “connected.” So, I volunteered, only to discover that the rumors of personal gain politics and “Smipkins” environment may be really true so a newcomer shouldn’t bother to become involved. I also do not happen to believe in the extreme approach to documenting personal information to feed into such an environment as would be required by the expanded scope being proposed under the guise of “Ethics”. If there is extensive evidence of conflict of interest, it should be formally reported and not just randomly mentioned as a political speech.

    People can be ruined by innuendo and this appears to possibly be part of personal agendas. This doesn’t help Cecil County realize its real potential. Maybe things will improve with the County Executive form of government.

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