Cecil County Council’s New Math: 2 plus 1= Action; 3 minus 1= Gripes and Snipes
It was the new math on the Cecil County Council: Two members plus one new appointee equaled three majority votes to make many stalled decisions. But Two Amigos– after losing one of their past allies– had a hard time accepting the new calculus Tuesday and resorted to some of the most vicious, personal attacks ever seen in the often raucous county government during the past two years.
Since the start of Charter government in Cecil County on 12/3/12, the County Council has been deadlocked, 2-2, and unable to decide anything, including how to exercise their power under the Charter to fill the vacant District 2 Council seat which Tari Moore resigned when she was sworn in as County Executive. So on Tuesday, Moore used her power under the Charter and appointed Joyce Bowlsbey, a longtime community volunteer and head of the citizens’ panel that wrote the Charter approved by voters in 2010, to fill the empty Council seat.
[SEE detailed Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/01/joyce-bowlsbey-former-charter-panel-chair-named-to-cecil-county-council-del-smigiel-files-suit-against-county-exec-moore/ ]
Immediately after Bowlsbey took her seat, the deadlocks ended at Tuesday morning’s Council worksession and long-delayed decisions were made. Robert Hodge, serving his second term representing District 5, was elected President of the Council and newly-elected member Dr. Alan McCarthy (R-1) was voted in as vice-president. Bowlsbey, Hodge and McCarthy voted together to make those decisions, after the Council had been unable to agree for two months even on how to proceed to select a Council president.
There were olive branches from the new three-vote majority toward the remaining “Two Amigos”—Councilors Diana Broomell (R-4) and Michael Dunn (R-3)—who had ruled the old County Commissioners board for two years with their ally, James Mullin (R-1), who was defeated for re-election last year by McCarthy.
But the Two Amigos were having none of the peace offerings. Instead, they lashed out at the other three Council members in some of the most vitriolic language heard in the county administration building in years.
The remaining Amigos sought to delay a vote on selecting Council officers, pending resolution of a lawsuit filed by their political ally and former employer, Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36), who is challenging Moore’s appointment of Bowlsbey. But when the officers were put to a vote, there was verbal sniping along with voting dissent. Broomell and Dunn voted against Hodge for council president, with Dunn declaring, “hell no.”
McCarthy was elected vice president of the Council, again on a 3-2 vote. Dunn attempted to disparage McCarthy, claiming that the newly elected councilman “can’t keep up with the agenda and Hodge has to coach him.” In two years on the commissioner’s board, Dunn uttered hardly a handful of words in public sessions and usually skipped issue briefings attended by other commissioners. He and Broomell often whispered to each other at worksessions.
Dunn’s resume lists having taken some courses at Cecil College and before election as a county commissioner in 2010 his previous employment was as a part-time aide to Del. Smigiel. Dr. McCarthy hold’s a bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland and a Doctorate in veterinary medicine from the University of Georgia and he is still licensed to practice veterinary medicine in five states.
In arguing against voting on Council officers now, Broomell questioned the “hasty appointment” of Bowlsbey and when McCarthy noted that the Council had failed to act by the deadline to do so, Broomell raised her voice, pointed her finger at him, and accused McCarthy of having “a very selective memory.”
Reading from a paper in front of him, Dunn attacked Hodge with claims he said came from a former tenant at a Hodge-owned property who was evicted in 2008. Dunn, for whom court documents list an address in a government-subsidized apartment project in Rising Sun, claimed that as a landlord Hodge “engaged in illegal activity” and should “resign” from the Council.
Hodge said he had “a tenant from hell” who was evicted for non-payment of rent and the matter was irrelevant to “politics” and a council worksession.
Warming to his script, Dunn continued the verbal assault, declaring, “I believe Cecil County is for sale” and he referred to Moore as “the queen on her throne upstairs.” He called Bowlsbey “yet another Hodge-Moore crony.”
Bowlsbey said that “nobody pulls my strings, nobody” and she referred to a past insult to her from Dunn, when he and the Amigos blocked her appointment to a Charter government advisory panel and Dunn likened her to a “fox in the henhouse.” Bowlsbey said she was actually “pleased” by Dunn’s insult, because “it’s been years since I’ve been called a fox.”
Hodge sought to ease some of the tensions by inviting Dunn to attend his first “Citizens’ Corner”—a 45-minute give-and-take between citizens and Council members before their bi-weekly evening meeting. “We’ll be easy on you” and “I’ll ask the citizens to be nice,” Hodge told Dunn.
But Dunn and Broomell did not attend the Citizens’ Corner Tuesday evening. (Dunn has never attended one of the sessions since Moore created the format a year ago.) During the session, McCarthy asked citizens what they want from the County Council.
“Decorum,” called out several members of the audience.
Hodge said that the tone of the morning worksession and the mudslinging was “horrible” and “just outrageous.” Council members “need to have more respect for each other,” he said.
At the Citizens’ Corner session, Bowlsbey said that after years attending commissioner worksessions as a member of the audience, she felt that people attending government meetings should not “have to tolerate the rudeness” by some elected officials.
During the evening Council meeting’s public comment period, there was much the same message.
Bill Harris, chair of the local Republican Club and an ordained minister, suggested that elected officials “stop using the I” and “agree to disagree” without attacking one another personally.
Ron Lobos said the Council members should “try to get along” and “stop the innuendos”–“Stop that now, do you understand that?” He said it was “immature” for Dunn to repeatedly refer to County Executive Moore as a “queen.”
“Stop the pettiness,” said Mario Gangemi, a leader of the Cecil County Business Leaders for Good Government group that endorsed Moore, Hodge and McCarthy in the 2012 election. He noted that the Council members couldn’t even agree on approval of the minutes of a meeting that he attended and said he heard the statements that Broomell wanted stricken from the official meeting minutes.
But the political agenda continued as several long-delayed decisions were made by the five-member council. The Council unanimously ratified Moore’s appointment of Al Wein, the veteran county administrator, as the new Director of Administration. But Broomell made a giggling aside comment, questioning his political party affiliation, to which Wein did not respond.
Dunn had his own political litmus test on two other staff appointments: Republicans only need apply.
He voted against Moore’s nomination of Winston Robinson—the former senior financial officer for the city of Wilmington, DE and a failed candidate for the Democratic nomination for County Executive in 2010— because he thought a Republican should get the Director of Finance post. And Dunn opposed the nomination of Jason Allison, a registered Democrat, for county attorney because he thought there were Republican lawyers who were equally qualified. (Broomell voted for Robinson and against Allison.)