Several Shades of Charter: Cecil County Commish Fade Out, Exec-elect Moore Weighs In–Sort of
It was the virtual swan song of the Cecil County Commissioners Tuesday, at their last full-scale business meeting before the transition to Charter government that begins on 12/3/12, but there were also several shades of the Charter ahead—including a proposal for a highly-compensated Council “manager” and complaints by some members of the Ethics Commission worried about retaining their posts.
It was also the first Cecil County commissioners’ worksession attended by Commissioner and County Executive-elect Tari Moore since her victory in the November election. And there were some indications of her priorities and approach to issues she will face in her new job, as well as deference by most of the other Commissioners to her new status.
Poignant, but at times pointless, was the performance of current Commissioners board President James Mullin (R-1), who was defeated for election to the new Council. At several junctures, he suggested meetings and consultations that he thought should be held in the future on various issues—seemingly forgetting the fact that his recommendations would be irrelevant in the new County Council/Charter governmental lineup. Sitting in the back of the meeting room to observe the worksession was his replacement, Dr. Alan McCarthy, who won election to the 1st District Council seat.
Moore went out of her way to commend her frequent commissioners’ board foe, Diana Broomell (R-4), on her leadership on discussions of drug abuse issues. Broomell’s term has two more years to run and she will sit on the new County Council.
But when Broomell tried to bring up past issues during a discussion of a newer issue—a state report on planned funding sources for an environmental assessment of proposed intersection improvements of I-95 and state Route 222—Moore cut her off.
Broomell, who lives along Route 222, has long opposed the state project, saying it would harm local residents who could lose much of their front yards or even face condemnation of their homes from related road-widening work. On Tuesday, she challenged fellow commissioners’ calls for meetings with Cecil County resident Mary Halsey, who sits on the state’s Transportation Authority, to discuss the Route 222 issue.
Broomell said Halsey “wasn’t on our side” when she joined with fellow members of the Authority in their initial proposal to impose huge toll increases on the Hatem Bridge without accommodations to local residents. (That proposal was ultimately rescinded by the state and local residents can now obtain low-cost EZ passes for travel on the bridge.)
But Moore cut her off, saying, “This is a separate subject. We need to move on.”
There was also an intriguing proposal for a County Council “manager” at an annual salary of $104,000—more than the County Executive’s “not less than $98,000” annual salary under the county Charter document.
That salary figure comes close to the current county budget’s salary allocation for the County Administrator—the veteran, highly qualified Al Wein, whose encyclopedic knowledge of Cecil County government programs and issues extends much longer than any current elected official. The current budget lists Wein’s salary as $114,735. Under Charter government, the administrator position is abolished but there will be a new title of “Director of Administration.”
County Commissioner (and re-elected County Councilman) Robert Hodge (R-5) proposed that the new Council should have its own “manager” to provide research and legislative guidance to the new Council, which will be a part-time body while the new Executive will be a full-time employee with full access to and support from county department heads and employees. The proposed Council manager salary figure was first disclosed at Tuesday morning’s worksession.
Such a top-level County Council manager would help put the Council on a relatively equal footing with the new Executive. But it also raises intriguing questions about who might be in line for selection to the post. Wein has not been officially endorsed for transition to the Director of Administration position in the new Moore-led Charter government. And informed sources told Cecil Times that a non-Cecil County resident who is a lawyer and also highly knowledgeable about Charter government issues might be interested in the Council manager post.
Meanwhile, other provisions of the new Charter came to attention Tuesday as Valerie Falcioni, chair of the county’s Ethics Commission, appeared before the Commissioners to plead for retention of current ethics panel members under the new charter government.
Under the new county Charter, current members of boards and commissions will retain their appointments “unless removed in accordance with the provisions of this Charter.” The County Executive has the power to remove past appointees but appointment of new members would require approval of the new County Council.
Falcioni and fellow ethics panel member Walt Rozanski were appointed to the panel earlier this year under the auspices of Commissioner Broomell, and one or both of them attend virtually every worksession, informal informational meeting and official business meeting of the county commissioners. Rozanski in particular is well-known for circulating in the lobby outside official meetings to eavesdrop on informal conversations among citizens, county officials, and members of the press.
As Falcioni began a detailed recitation of the charter law, Commissioner Hodge inquired, “Why are you here and what are you proposing?”
Falcioni responded that she and some fellow panel members had “serious concerns about how the ethics board will be treated under the charter.” She added that she feared “the impact would be significant and negative.”
The ethics panel “must remain apolitical in nature,” Falcioni declared.
Depending on the new County Council lineup—and who replaces Moore on the Council—the leverage that Broomell has held with her appointees to the ethics panel could be in question.
Meanwhile, Moore was mum on a key issue confronting her assumption of the County Executive slot—whether she would temporarily step aside from her Republican party affiliation so as to allow her to have an unfettered choice of who will fill her seat on the new County Council.
As Cecil Times previously reported, the Smipkin-dominated Republican Central Committee will hold the power to pick a replacement unless Moore temporarily steps aside from her GOP party label and shifts to an “unaffiliated” status. If she does so, she would be free to pick a non-Smipkin Council member—such as Joyce Bowlsbey, the “godmother” of Charter who worked tirelessly to win voter support for the change in county government.
[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/11/a-modest-cecil-county-proposal-moore-could-unaffiliate-from-gop-briefly-to-spare-us-smipkin-pick-of-new-county-council-member/ ]
Asked by Cecil Times on Tuesday about whether she would consider briefly changing her partisan affiliation so as to avoid a Smipkin-ruled County Council majority that could thwart her legislative agenda as County Executive, Moore responded, “No Comment.” She did add that she always does “due diligence” and “considers all the options” before making any decision.