Theater Review: Curtain Falls on Cecil County Council Impasse; Moore to Pick Successor, Sends ‘Tier’ Map to State
It was almost like watching the Elkton version of âSunset Boulevardâ — the classic movie in which forgotten silent film star Norma Desmond pathetically declares, âMr. DeMille, Iâm ready for my close-upâ– when the new Cecil County Council held its last formal session of the year Tuesday. Deadlocked again, the Council abdicated its role in filling a vacant District 2 seat and as a result, new County Executive Tari Moore will get to pick her own successor on the Council.
Moore also stepped into the breech of a previous deadlock, when she was still a member of the old board of County Commissioners, over selection of a land preservation map mandated by the state. So she took action administratively to send to Annapolis a less-restrictive âtierâ map (Map 10) that only includes lands already in preservation, such as parkland or farms that owners have voluntarily enrolled in farmland protection programs. If the county had not submitted its own map by 12/31/12, the state could have imposed a much more restrictive map on county land.
âThis map protects the property rights of our landowners, as well as the property rights of those with development currently going through the approval process,â Moore said, noting that the Commissioners had been unable to make a decision despite âmore than six months of discussion, a public hearing, and much input from our community.â Moore had supported Map 10 as a commissioner but the then-ruling âThree Amigosâ majority did not.
Some of the County Council performers are having a hard time adjusting to the new power structure on Chesapeake Blvd. in Elkton and, like the Hollywood original, the Sunset of their influence. There was lots of drama and overblown soliloquies by two actors who are about to be demoted from lead players to understudies: Council members Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3).
And there was a backstage rump chorus, sung by the county Republican Central Committee, to promote its own list of three nominees to fill Mooreâs vacant Council seatâeven though the panelâs role was removed from the official process by Mooreâs decision to switch from Republican to âunaffiliatedâ several days before she was sworn in as County Executive.
For the past two years, Broomell and Dunnâalong with ousted County Commissioner James Mullin (R-1) â ruled the County Commissioners board with their âThree Amigosâ majority, steamrolling over Moore and fellow Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5). But now the tables are about to be turned.
Ever since the new Council held its first meeting on 12/4/12, the four members now seated have been unable to agree on how to proceed to exercise their power under the Charter to fill Mooreâs empty seat by 1/3/13âor else be forced by the Charter to yield that power to Moore. Broomell and Dunn have repeatedly attacked Mooreâs decision to âunaffiliateâ and refused even to consider proposals by Hodge and new Councilman Dr. Alan McCarthy (R-1) to establish a process to review and vote upon potential candidates.
And in the eleventh hour Tuesdayâwith no further meetings scheduled before the 1/3/13 deadline to act– the remaining Two Amigos did not go down without a fight. Broomell tried to get the Council to go into a secret, closed session to consider the three names submitted via email by the GOP committee, which is controlled by acolytes of Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, R-36.
Their nominees were Robert Gorman, Chris Zeauskas and Bill Feehley. Gorman is a longtime Smigiel supporter and water-carrier who voiced robocalls against Hodge and Moore in the GOP primary and he led a PAC that attacked Judge Keith Baynes, who defeated Smigiel in a race for Circuit Court earlier this year. [SEE Cecil Times report on the PACâs financing here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/12/smipkin-pals-seeking-cecil-county-council-seat-linked-to-pacs-sleaze-against-fellow-republicans/ ]
Zeauskas chairs the Central Committee, after losing to Moore in a party primary for Commissioner in 2010. He stepped aside from the committeeâs nominating process and the email listing the panelâs choices was submitted by Carrie Taylor, the committeeâs treasurer.
Feehley, who owns a private accounting firm, was the independently elected county Treasurer for two years, until Charter abolished that position. He applied for the new county position of Director of Finance but Moore passed over him for that appointment.
At Tuesdayâs worksession, Dunn backed Broomellâs bid for a secret session but Hodge and McCarthy did notâdeadlock again. âI donât think the Central Committee did a good jobâ and did not pick the âbest qualifiedâ candidates, Hodge said. He noted that âmultiple peopleâ have submitted applications for the vacancy directly to the Council or to Moore and did not go through the GOP committeeâs selection process.
Broomell engaged in a lengthy exchange with sort-of County Attorney Norman Wilsonâwho explained that technically he was out of a job when Charter government took effect and he was simply volunteering his services to the Council and the county now as âa lowly non-contract lawyer.â Nevertheless, Broomell demanded an âopinionâ on her assertion that Mooreâ decision to unaffiliate was improper, that the GOP committee still should have a binding say in picking nominees, and she questioned how many nominees the Council could consider.
Wilson initially was hesitant to offer an opinion, since the council had been divided, 2-2, on whether to seek a legal opinion. A clearly exasperated McCarthy said he would be willing to change his vote if Broomell would agree to accept whatever Wilson had to say as a final authority on the matter, but Broomell declined, saying repeatedly, âI need to keep my options open.â
A clearly frustrated McCarthy declared, âWe sit here and ruminateâitâs crazy.â
âPlease control your temper,â Broomell declared.
Dunnâwhose perpetual silence as a member of the County Commissioners was his hallmark, with Mullin often interpreting a ânodâ of his head as a voteâsuddenly found his Norma Desmond voice. With Mullin no longer around to translate his silent movie gestures, Dunn has now entered the world of the talkies.
Apparently reading from a piece of paper, Dunn uttered his dramatic lines: âWe are becoming a Banana Republic under Queen Tari the First.â Warming to his script, Dunn said that âthe fix is in and another Hodge-Moore puppetâ will be selected for the vacant Council seat. And, during discussion of tier maps, Dunn sought to broaden his repertory to the reality TV genre, calling Moore âHer Majestyâ and claiming her administrative action was âdone in a very underhanded wayâŚjust par for the course.â
Not to be outdone by Dunn, Broomell took to the stage to denounce everyone from former Commissioner Brian Lockhart, who Dunn defeated in 2010 to gain a commissionerâs seat, to âthese same people [who] have attended each of these meetings for two years.â She indicated members of the Cecil County Patriots, the local tea party group, who have been among her most vocal critics and she accused them of not following âtea partyâ principles.
And, competing with Dunn for most negative soliloquy against the county executive, Broomell asserted that âshe will have supreme powerâ and will cater to âa lot of special interests.â
But the weekly drama in Elkton will likely be cancelled when Moore selects her replacement on the Council. She is not bound to a specific timetable but with the pattern of deadlock among the current Council four, filling the seat quickly in early January would seem to be a high priority. The next Council worksession is 1/8/13 and a formal business meeting is 1/15/13.
Although she is not required by the Charter to do so, Moore is considered likely to pick a Republican for the vacancy so as to keep the Council all-Republicanâand ease her own move back to the GOP as is expected once the seat is filled. But the GOP central committeeâs list of candidates is probably not high on her radar.
Moore voted last May against seating Gorman on the Charter government advisory panel, that was then in the final stages of submitting recommendations on how to ease the transition from commissioners to Charter. He was the choice of the GOP Central Committee then, too, but Mooreâin an apparent reference to his involvement in the Smipkin robocalls against herâ said that Gorman âdoes not do his research before he makes baseless and inaccurate accusations.â
[SEE Cecil Times article here: http://ceciltimes.com/2012/05/gorman-smigiels-pac-man-picked-by-smipkin-gop-committee-for-charter-advisory-panel/
Zeauskas is a dedicated Smipkin foot-soldier, especially for Pipkin who financed the robocalls and smear mailers against Moore and Hodge in the primary. He could be expected to slide into Mullinâs role as another Amigo to perpetuate a three-vote majority opposing Moore initiatives.
Feehley is a more viable candidate, since he does have two years of experience as Treasurer, has attended most Commissionersâ worksessions and business meetings and is familiar with most key issues facing the county. But Feehley crossed some political lines two years ago, when he resigned as treasurer of Mooreâs campaign committee after he was, initially, recruited by Pipkin to run for county Treasurer. Moore had to re-print all her campaign literature and yard signs, at considerable expense, to change the required authority line from Feehleyâs name to that of her husband, Steve.
The Smipkins eventually cooled on Feehley and fielded their own candidate, Carrie Taylor, to challenge him in the primary but she lost.
More recently, Feehley has joined with Broomell in challenging a proposal by the countyâs public school leadership to pursue a new vo-tech school on the now vacant Basell science complex north of Elkton. The Three Amigos faction refused even to allow an engineering feasibility study, which the schools would pay for out of current funds.
But Moore cited her support for the vo-tech school in the election campaign and her strongest advocates in the local business and educational community would expect to see the proposal move forward under her administrationânot be stymied again by a County Council.