Pre-Election Agenda for Cecil County Commish: Push Animal Buddies, Stall Votech
In the waning weeks of Cecil Countyâ€™s commissioner form of government, which will convert to a Charter system shortly after the November election, the Three Amigos majority of the current board is pushing its agenda before one of its members is out of office. And the agendas for Tuesdayâ€™s commissioner meetings tell the taleâ€”or is it tail?
So far, the scorecard is schools out, animal ordinance revisions in. That is, no vote on a time-sensitive decision on a votech school proposal, but moving ahead with changes in the animal ordinance that were never voted on by the commissioners and holding a public hearing on it that was never authorized by a vote.
Despite the request of County Commissioners Tari Moore (R-2) and Robert Hodge (R-5) that the commissioners slate a Tuesday worksession vote on the Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) request to proceed with â€śdue diligenceâ€ť on possible acquisition of the Basell property for a new vo-tech school, the posted agenda for that meeting excludes the school issue.
CCCPS officials met with the commissioners last Tuesday afternoon and upped the ante on their own financial investment in the project, including an offer for the first time to pay $60,000 for an independent engineering study of the feasibility of the conversion of the now vacant scientific building and its 91-acre campus to a votech school. [SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/10/cecil-county-schools-up-ante-on-votech-school-but-2-amigos-balk/ ]
Four of the five commissioners attended the session, but Commissioner Michael Dunn (R-3) was absent from the meeting, as he often is from all but the most basic requirements of the job to attend formal Tuesday morning worksessions and twice-monthly evening business meetings.
Sources said the schools issue was ostensibly pulled from the Tuesday worksession agenda so as to accommodate Dunn and allow him to get up to speed on the issue. However, the meeting was videotaped by members of the Cecil County Patriots and has been readily available on the Internet for several daysâ€”see link here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6YodkNO3ro&feature=plcp
As of the end of the week there had also been no private meetings between Dunn and CCPS officials to respond to any questions, sources said.
The Three Amigosâ€”Dunn and Commissioners Diana Broomell (R-4) and James Mullin (R-1) — voted against proceeding with the Basell site at a secret, closed-door meeting in May. Moore and Hodge voted in favor of the project. Mullin is out of a job in a few weeks, after losing his re-election bid in the GOP primary. Hodge is running for re-election and Moore is running for County Executive.
The additional delay on the votech proposalâ€”which needs a go-ahead soon in order to be put on the stateâ€™s capital budget agenda– was blasted by the Cecil Business Leaders for Good Government, a group that has strongly supported the votech school as a stimulant to the local economy and an investment in future job creation in the county.
In an email to members and supporters, the business groupâ€™s vice-president, Mario Gangemi, fired back against the agenda change, saying:
â€śTo the disappointment of the CBL we learned that the Basell decision has been pulled from this coming Tuesday’s agenda. It was indicated that it was pulled at the request of CCPS. We have confirmed that to be false!
â€śIt begs the question: what is important to Commissioners Mullin, Broomell and Dunn? It seems cats and dogs are more important than the future of Cecil County’s children.
â€śCommissioners Tari Moore and Robert Hodge are fighting to return the Basell decision to Tuesday’s agenda. Please join this battle. Please bombard our commissioners with letters, emails and phone calls.
â€śLet them know that the citizens of Cecil County are tired of their feet dragging and misplaced priorities. Let them know that we want CCPS to be allowed to follow through on the due diligence of the Basell property.â€ť
But the delay might be orchestrated to set the stage for a counter-proposalâ€”and one that could be worse for the schools fiscally than simply waiting until after the November election. Both Moore and her Democratic rival for county executive, Pam Howard, have said they support allowing the â€śdue diligenceâ€™ and the independent engineering study to proceed and have urged a commissionersâ€™ â€śyesâ€ť vote.
Moving ahead now could bring into play a much-rumored counter-proposalâ€”engineered, through Dunn, by his mentor and former employer, Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36), to try to force CCPS to double its draw from its â€śfund balanceâ€ť for the project. CCPS already proposed coming up with $1.5 million from such reserve funds, but a $3 million draw could be a fiscally risky proposition, especially since CCPS budgets have been cut in recent years while state mandated programs and costs have risen.
Meanwhile, the Three Amigos are pushing ahead with a public hearing Tuesday evening on revisions to the countyâ€™s new animal ordinance, which just took effect 10/1/12, to remove cats from most provisions. Broomell and Mullin have admitted they did not read the new ordinance, which included cats in provisions such as nuisance animals and destruction of neighborsâ€™ property by owned cats, before they voted for it. (The Three Amigos voted for the ordinance while Hodge and Moore voted no, for reasons other than the cat provisions.)
However, the commissioners never voted on the new potential text changes despite several recent meetings on the issue. And at Mullinâ€™s personal request the issue was put out to a quick public hearing, with no authorizing vote to do so and to pay the costs of newspaper ads, by the commissionersâ€™ board.
Broomell has taken to posting supportive comments on a Facebook page organized by backers and principals of a Delaware group, â€śA Buddy for Life,â€ť that placed a bid on a pending â€śRequest for Proposalâ€ť to assume animal control services for the county government.
The Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. (CCSPCA) withdrew its own bid recently because, the groupâ€™s attorney said, the bidding process was â€śtaintedâ€ť by possible improper communication with the Buddy group to tip them off in advance that cats would be excluded from the ordinance so that a bid could be adjusted to exclude the significant costs of providing services to cats.
Meanwhile, the Buddy groupâ€”which consists of Delaware-based volunteers and has no dedicated animal shelter, no experience in animal control, no paid employees and no experience in managing employees or sub-contractorsâ€”has been given multiple chances to come up with a make-up proposal long after the September deadline to submit a formal bid. After a meeting with a county senior-level employeesâ€™ review panel, the Buddy group was told to come up with a â€śfinalâ€ť proposalâ€”based on the ordinance as it currently exists, and including cat animal control, according to public statements at commissioner worksessions.
However, sources said, that â€śfinalâ€ť proposal was still deficient and after further consultation last week, the Buddy group was told to come back with yet another â€śfinalâ€ť â€“or is it a final, final, maybe finalâ€”proposal in the next few days.
The Three Amigos faction has clearly indicated it wants to remove the costly cats coverage from the new ordinance and is pushing ahead to award a contractâ€”presumably to the untested Buddy groupâ€”as quickly as possible before the election.
Broomell has been leading the charge on the issue, but Dunn in particular has attacked the CCSPCA ever since taking office while parroting his former employer, Smigielâ€™s, longstanding political campaign against the organization.
Mullin has also echoed the Smigiel line but he will be out of office after the election. The leading candidate to replace him, Dr. Alan McCarthy, a Chesapeake City veterinarian, has called for â€śrepealâ€ť of the new animal ordinance and re-writing it into a â€śsensible piece of legislation.â€ť