Cecil County Transition: County Council Deadlocks, but Exec Picks New Finance Chief
Cecil Countyâs transition to Charter government got off to a mixed start, with the new County Council in a 2-2- standoff on even basic matters while County Executive Tari Moore moved ahead with assembling her top staff.
Multiple sources said Wednesday that Moore had selected Winston Robinson, a Democratic candidate for county executive who came in last in a three-way party primary earlier this year, as the new finance director for the county. That post would replace the previous independently-elected Treasurer under the commissionerâs form of government– a position held by Bill Feehley, a Republican, who narrowly defeated three-term Democrat Pam Howard in the 2010 election.
Moore interviewed a half-dozen candidates for the position, including Feehley, Howard, and current county budget director Craig Whiteford, sources said. Howard was the Democratic nominee for county executive this year but lost to Moore by about 5 percentage points in the November election.
Robinson has been the senior finance official for the City of Wilmington, DE for several years but he is a resident of Cecil County and previously worked at the Cecil County Treasurerâs office under Howard. He had no political experience or exposure until his low-budget, low-key run for county executive this year.
The appointment will have to be ratified by the County Council, but if Tuesdayâs deliberations by the County Council are any indication, it could be a while before the nomination is approved. [UPDATE: After Cecil Times posted this article reporting on Robinson’s selection, the county government issued a press release confirming our report and saying Robinson’s name would be submitted to the Council “after the vacant Council seat is filled.”]
In its first meeting under Charter government, the new County Council deadlocked, 2-2, on confirmation of the veteran, highly-regarded county administrator Al Wein as the new Charter-titled Director of Administration– after Council member Diana Broomell (R-4) questioned whether he had to submit a full financial disclosure report right now under a recently revised version of the countyâs ethics code. At Broomellâs behest, the code was revised several months ago to mandate that department heads must file the same deeply detailed financial disclosure forms as elected officials, such as Council members.
County Attorney Norman Wilson pointed out that Wein, as a current county employee, did not have to file under the new rules until 4/30/13. And other county officials said the effective date for the new forms even for new employees did not begin until January.
Wein offered some additional disclosure information voluntarily, but Broomell jumped on that to say that he should file the full form right now before the Council voted to ratify the appointment. So she and fellow hold-over Council member Michael Dunn (R-3) voted against approving the Wein appointment while Councilman Robert Hodge (R-5) and newly elected Councilman Alan McCarthy (R-1) supported Wein.
It was really a tempest in a teapot, because under county law and the Charter, Wein can still serve in an interim, acting capacity for six months and under certain circumstances Moore could install him in the post indefinitely if the Council does not act expeditiously. So Wein is still on the job, the Council notwithstanding.
In his first session on the Council, McCarthy showed he was more than willing to stand up to Broomell. She dominated the old Board of Commissioners as part of the âThree Amigosâ majority that included Dunn and James Mullin, who lost his bid for re-election overwhelmingly to McCarthy in the GOP primary election.
âWeâre pushing this back and back and backâwhy donât we just close the government down for two monthsâwould that be acceptable to you,â McCarthy retorted to Broomell on the Wein nomination, as members of the audience applauded.
That was a reference to how long it is expected to take to fill the currently vacant District 2 Council seat, a vacancy created by the resignation of Moore so as to assume her new post as County Executive.
Earlier in the day, at a morning worksession, the new Council deadlocked, 2-2, on selecting even an interim, temporary president of the Council. It was clear at that session that no substantive decisions will be made until the now vacant District 2 seat on the council is filled and a new three-member majority is in place.
Hodge nominated McCarthy for the interim, temporary president title to conduct meetings until a full five-member council is seated, but the remaining Two AmigosâBroomell and Dunnâvoted no. Dunn nominated Broomell for interim president, but Hodge and McCarthy voted no. (On the nominations, Broomell voted for herself, as did McCarthy.)
Meanwhile, the fallout from Mooreâs decision to temporarily resign from the Republican Party and change her political status to âunaffiliatedâ continued. Moore took that step so as to prevent the Smipkin political organization, led by state Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) from hand-picking her successor on the County Council. Mooreâs bold step blocked the Smipkin-ruled county GOP Central Committee from determining the list of three names from which her successor would have to be picked.
Joe Carabetta, a member of the GOP Central Committee who has usually been at odds with the Smipkin majority, is nevertheless incensed at Mooreâs decision to âunaffiliate.â
At the Tuesday evening Council meetingâs public comment portion of the agenda, Carabetta declared that Mooreâs temporary unaffiliation was an âabominationâ and âan embarrassment to the party.â
And Smigiel and Pipkin went on conservative Internet radio programs to denounce Moore, while other conservative GOP commentators commended her step.
The County Council is slated to meet on Thursday 12/6/12 with the state delegation to discuss legislative proposals for the 2013 General Assembly session. If the Smipkins show up, it could be a âbumpy ride.â