Tiers, Tears and Taunts: Cecil County Commish Blasted on “Tier” Maps; Broomell Bashes Critics
There were tears from farm families fearful of losing their land legacy, taunts from property rights advocates and angry outbursts by Cecil County Commissioner Diana Broomell against her critics and a fellow commissioner, as an overflow crowd jammed a public hearing in Elkton Tuesday night on a proposed ‘tier” land preservation map endorsed by a three-vote majority of the Commissioners.
The comments were spirited and overwhelmingly against the proposal. But at one point the verbiage spilled over into an attack by Broomell (R-4) against members of the Cecil County Patriots, the local “tea party” group that has been outspoken against the plan, and yet another attack by Broomell on her fellow county commissioner, Robert Hodge (R-5).
Broomell was a prime architect of the so-called “Draft 4” version of the “tier” maps that are being drawn under directives from new state legislation designed to control land development as part of Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts. But the core of the local controversy that played out at the public hearing was whether the “Draft 4” map puts too much privately-owned land into a no-growth category, well beyond what the county’s relatively new Comprehensive Plan called for.
It was that “Draft 4” map that was put out for Tuesday night’s public hearing, a map that was endorsed by the “Three Amigos” controlling faction—Broomell, James Mullin (R-1) and Michael Dunn (R-3)– of the five-member county board. Hodge and Commissioner Tari Moore (R-2) opposed it. The map is not yet final, and a plan does not have to be submitted to the state until the end of the year.
But lame duck Commissioners’ board President Mullin, who lost the GOP primary for re-election to his seat and will be out of office as of early December, declared that the commissioners would give final approval to a tiers map in the next two weeks. The speedy schedule indicates Mullin and Broomell want to push ahead with their plans before the outcome of the November election that could dramatically change the political landscape in the county seat in Elkton.
The fireworks ignited Tuesday night when Jackie Gregory, a member of the Patriots group, condemned the “Draft 4” tiers plan and said that Broomell had “moved in the opposite direction” of her campaign promises when she was elected a commissioner two years ago.
“That’s not correct,” interjected Broomell, breaching the usual protocol of a public hearing that commissioners do not speak and the lawmakers listen to the viewpoints of citizens.
“I’d appreciate not being interrupted,” Gregory responded, before continuing that the tiers map was “a local map coming from local commissioners” and suggesting it was disingenuous for Broomell and Mullin to claim that they were just doing what they had to do under state mandates. She said the commissioners should not be “cowards” and should listen to local residents and follow the directives of the citizen-drafted Comprehensive Plan, which was ratified by the county commissioners.
(The county Planning Commission recently rejected the Three Amigos-endorsed map, as over-reaching and not compliant with the county’s Comprehensive Plan that sets planning and land preservation priorities. A “Draft 8” map has been drawn in recent days to reflect the planning panel’s view of the comprehensive plan’s blueprint for the county’s future.)
Along the sidewall of the commissioners’ meeting room, the color-coded maps showed the significant differences between the “Draft 4” plan endorsed by the Amigos and the “Draft 8” map based upon the Comprehensive Plan: wide swathes of central- western Cecil County would be off limits to virtually all development (classified as “Tier 4”) under the Amigos’ map while many of those areas would be classified as limited potential growth areas under a “Tier 3” designation on the Comprehensive Plan-based map.
After a tractorcade protest by farmers encircled the county administration building a week ago to protest the Amigos’ map proposal, [SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/08/farmers-tractorcade-protests-cecil-county-commissioners-tier-maps-property-rights-limits/ Broomell has been asserting that her views have been misrepresented by the evil local media. She now states that she supports a map that corresponds to the comprehensive plan, and that the Planning Commission really supports her point of view.
“I didn’t support any map,” she said during the “citizens’ corner” segment of Tuesday’s meeting before the public hearing. A look at the conflicting maps on the wall of the meeting room, and the voting record, indicates otherwise.
Meanwhile, as citizens’ criticism rose to a crescendo at the hearing, Broomell demanded to speak amidst the citizen comments, stating, “I’d like to speak.” But the crowd yelled, “NOOOO” and then Mullin declared, “Point of order—No shouting from the audience.”
He then allowed Broomell to speak, and she asserted, “I did not support a tier map that selectively removed” certain properties from a more restrictive, no-growth Tier 4 into a less restrictive Tier 3 category that “would have benefited certain property owners.”
Then, glaring at the audience, Broomell asserted that “these people are orchestrated and here to support Robert Hodge.” At that the crowd gasped and registered dissent, but then Mullin loudly declared, ‘I’ve got a security guard,” gesturing toward a police officer stationed at the back of the room.
Many of the speakers at the hearing were from multi-generational farm families, upset and angry that their family legacy—such as the time-honored tradition of slicing off a piece of the family farm to create a homesite for a son or daughter—would be terminated under the “Draft 4” map. Many choked back tears and, with voices cracking, told how elderly parents who needed medical care would lose the value of their farmland that they had always thought would take care of them in their twilight years.
Wayne Stafford, president of the county Farm Bureau who organized the tractorcade protest, testified that the state law was “an unconstitutional taking of private property rights” without compensation. It is “a large octopus,” he said, grabbing farmers’ land.
A Colora resident declared that farmers were “cash poor” and their families would be unable to pay estate taxes upon their deaths, resulting in their land being “auctioned off.” Instead, he said, “Confiscate the land of all the politicians first—tear down their houses.”
Then there were the business-oriented speakers, who challenged the Amigos map as a hindrance to the county’s economic future and advocated a stance of defiance against state mandates.
Representing the county’s Chamber of Commerce, Joyce Bowlsby said the proposed map did not reflect the Comprehensive Plan that the Chamber endorsed and she challenged the commissioners to join with other counties in a legal challenge to the state mandate. “Let’s tell them we’re not doing it,” she added.
Mario Gangemi, representing the Cecil Business Leaders for Better Government group formed earlier this year, said the county should register its protest against the state mandate by not signing the maps to “send a message…game on.”
However, a recent meeting of the county commissioners and state planning officials disclosed that the state has no authority to mandate the content of the maps and commissioners are free to submit whatever maps they choose. Only if the county does not submit any maps at all by the end of the year would the state have the power to impose its own interpretation of land use limits.
Only a handful of speakers supported the Amigos map. Rupert Rosetti, a geologist and longtime land preservation advocate, stated that he thought that version was compliant with state officials’ interpretations of the comprehensive plan.
George Kaplan, another land preservation advocate from Colora, said the commissioners must show their support for sensible land use policies “not just in words, but in deed.”