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Joyce Bowlsbey, Former Charter Panel Chair, Named to Cecil County Council; Del. Smigiel Files Suit against County Exec Moore

January 15, 2013
By Nancy Schwerzler

Joyce Bowlsbey, a longtime community volunteer who chaired the citizens’ panel that drafted the Cecil County Charter approved by voters in 2010, was appointed to the vacant District 2 County Council seat Tuesday by County Executive Tari Moore. But Del. Michael Smigiel, whose political allies lost majority control of the Council in the aftermath of the November election, filed a lawsuit seeking to block the appointment—which he called a “coup.”

Moore announced the appointment of Bowlsbey early Tuesday morning, shortly before a scheduled County Council worksession. Bowlsbey will serve the remaining two years of Moore’s term in the Council seat, which Moore vacated when she was sworn in as County Executive on 12/3/12.

“Joyce’s qualifications, experience and passion made her an outstanding candidate for this position,” Moore said. “She is an excellent listener who does her homework on the issues. She makes good decisions based on sound reasoning and common sense. She reaches out to build consensus and works toward positive solutions,” Moore added.

In accepting the appointment, Bowlsbey said she believed that “no Council member should have their own political agenda but instead we should all work together to move Cecil County forward.” She said she had “no hidden agenda” and would “work to create consensus among the council.”

But she was not shy about standing up to critics on the Council, saying, “It has been insinuated that Executive Moore’s replacement would be a puppet…no one pulls my strings, I am an independent thinker.” And with a laugh and a nod toward her husband sitting in the audience, she added, “Just ask my husband.” (As she spoke, Council member Diana Broomell, R-4, laughed and shook her head negatively from the audience.)

Even before the appointee was identified, the remaining Two Amigos faction on the Council—Broomell and Michael Dunn (R-3) – attacked Moore and anyone she might choose. The County Council had the power, under the new Charter, to appoint someone to fill the vacancy but the Council deadlocked, 2-2, without ever even discussing potential nominees before a 1/3/13 deadline to act. (Broomell and Dunn sided together while Councilors Robert Hodge and Alan McCarthy teamed on the other side.) As a result, Moore was empowered by the Charter to name her successor.

But the Smipkin political organization—headed by Smigiel and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin– never goes down without a fight. So on Monday afternoon, Smigiel filed a lawsuit seeking “declaratory judgment, temporary restraining order, and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief” to block an appointment by Moore. But, unlike the usual lawyer-to-lawyer courtesy in Elkton, Smigiel apparently did not send a copy of his suit to the county attorney or the county executive.

So when the County Council convened Tuesday morning—after Bowlsbey had been sworn in and taken her Council seat– no one had knowledge of the action, except for Broomell, who inquired about it and sought to delay any Council votes until the suit was addressed. Acting County Attorney Jason Allison made some quick phone calls and announced that it was Smigiel who had filed a lawsuit, representing Chris Zeauskas, chairman of the county’s Republican Central Committee and an applicant for the Council appointment.

(Moore told Cecil Times that she had reached out to Zeauskas in her interviews of potential applicants for the Council seat but he did not return her calls.)

In his court filings, Smigiel gets in quite a few digs and political snipes at Moore. (The Smipkin organization financed negative robocalls and sleazy attack mailers against Moore during the GOP primary campaign last year.)

The crux of his legal argument is that the Charter is “poorly written” and vague on procedures for filling a vacancy and the act of Moore changing her political party registration from Republican to “unaffiliated” does not really change her longstanding “affiliation” and identification with the Republican party.

Under the charter, if Moore had remained a Republican at the time of her resignation from the Council, the Republican Central Committee (RCC) would have been empowered to submit a list of three names to the County Council and their choice would have to have been made from those names. But if a Council seat is represented by an “unaffiliated” member, the Council is not bound by a party committee’s list of names.

One of Smigiel’s claims is that a court should order a RCC list of names be submitted to the Council. The RCC already did that, including Zeauskas’ name, but the Council did not act on any nominations—throwing the ball into Moore’s court under the Charter. The charter does not mandate that the Council has to act on a party committee’s list.

Smigiel is also demanding that the RCC should be allowed to re-advertise for candidates, interview them, and submit the list to the Council and that if Moore makes a choice it must be from the RCC’s nominees.

Ever the overblown political rhetoric slinger even in his legal filings, Smigiel alleges that Moore has “taken advantage of the political chaos she created through her act of deception” and is “attempting to circumvent the checks and balances and to control the selection of her replacement on the County Council and, thus, to control the Council and effectively have [sic] staged a coup of the new Cecil County Government…”

Smigiel also asserts that the reason Moore won the November election for county executive “and beat a more experienced and qualified Democratic candidate [was] due to the Republican party efforts, affiliation and funding” of her campaign. Democrat Pam Howard, the former three-term elected County Treasurer who lost by five percentage points to Moore in the County Executive race, might be flattered if the compliment came from any other source.

Smigiel also asserts that even though Moore was officially registered as an “unaffiliated” voter at the time she resigned her Council seat, that her long history as a Republican party member and elected official shows she is still “affiliated” with the party despite her changed voter registration. And he declares that the charter does not define the term “party member.”

In a claim unrelated to the question of filling the Council seat, Smigiel also attacks Moore for taking administrative action to submit a land use plan (“Map 10”) to the state as mandated by state law after the former Commissioners deadlocked on how to proceed. The map Moore submitted was the least restrictive of 11 proposals considered by county officials and respected private property rights significantly more than the Map 4 originally supported for a public hearing by the Smipkin-aligned Three Amigos.

Nevertheless, Zeauskas—in a filing accompanying the lawsuit—alleges that the submitted map hurts citizens by “arbitrarily taking of their property rights.” Zeauskas never attended a commissioners’ worksession or meeting at which the tier maps were discussed.

Smigiel has already lost round one—seeking to prevent the appointment and swearing-in of anyone not on the RCC’s list of names, which included Zeauskas, longtime Smigiel donor and operative Robert Gorman, and former two-year county Treasurer Bill Feehley whose post was eliminated by the shift to Charter government.

It is expected that a visiting judge will be named to hear the lawsuit, after local judges recuse themselves, since Smigiel lost his political campaign for a Circuit Court judgeship last year to sitting judges Keith Baynes and Jane Murray, and the wife of the third judge is a frequent donor to Smigiel’s campaign funds.

Meanwhile, Bowlsbey was sworn in to the Council seat by Circuit Court Clerk Derrick Lowe Tuesday morning and then attended her first Council worksession. But she is no stranger to the issues facing the county or the operations and personalities of the legislative body in Elkton.

Bowlsbey retired after 20 years service with W.L.Gore & Associates, where she was a corporate customer service and sales representative who traveled internationally for the company. Bowlsbey and her husband, John, have been married for 48 years and have two children and three grandchildren.

After her retirement, she had a whole new career as a community volunteer for a wide range of charity, government and business organizations.

She was a member of the board of directors of the Cecil County Chamber of Commerce for five years and until her appointment to the County Council served as the chair of the Chamber’s Government Relations Committee. In that capacity, Bowlsbey has attended most County Commissioners meetings and weekly worksessions for several years, giving her a broad knowledge of the issues currently facing the county government. She also served as a member of the county’s Planning Commission and the Economic Development Commission.

As the chair of the Cecil County Charter Board, Bowlsbey led the citizens’ group that drafted the Charter that was overwhelmingly approved by Cecil County voters in 2010—after multiple failed attempts to change the county’s form of government in the past. She also led the “Friends of Charter” group that campaigned to win voter support of the shift from a five-member County Commissioner’s board form of government to the new County Executive and five-member County Council.

It was her role as a booster for Charter government that got Bowlsbey on the enemies list of the Smipkin organization, whose principals—Smigiel and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin—vehemently opposed Charter government, since it would diminish their power to control county affairs from Annapolis. Under Charter, the county has power to manage most of its affairs directly while under the old Commissioners system General Assembly approval was required for even routine matters such as raising dog license fees.

Smigiel and Pipkin railed against Bowlsbey during a meeting with the then-County Commissioners before the election that ratified the Charter. Then, in early 2011, Broomell, Dunn and the now forcibly retired Third Amigo, Commissioner James Mullin (R-1)—refused to allow Bowlsbey to serve on a Charter transition advisory panel.

Dunn, a former Smigiel employee, attacked Bowlsbey, saying that allowing her to serve on the transition advisory group would be like letting “the fox in the hen house.” His attempt at insult backfired, however, as many friends and acquaintances of Bowlsbey, who dresses stylishly and often wears some of her own hand-crafted jewelry, took to complimenting her on being a “fox” and a “foxy lady.”

[EDITORS NOTE: Cecil Times will be filing a separate report on the rhetorical slug-fest that ensued at the County Council worksession and which is expected to go into Round 2 Tuesday evening at a formal Council legislative session.]

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12 Responses to Joyce Bowlsbey, Former Charter Panel Chair, Named to Cecil County Council; Del. Smigiel Files Suit against County Exec Moore

  1. Rebecca Demmler on January 16, 2013 at 11:33 am

    This was a comprehensive overview. Thanks for the excellent reporting. The Bowlsbey choice is an excellent one. She certainly has solid qualifications. Her past involvement in her community and county forms the foundation needed in this present role. Along with many others, I celebrate the addition of this independent thinker and extremely capable voice to the Cecil County Council.

    EDITOR’s NOTE: Mrs. Demmler, a former county commissioner, had volunteered to serve the county once again and asked to be considered for the vacant District 2 seat. Her gracious comments on the selection of Mrs. Bowlsbey are a welcome change from the sniping we heard from some other current Council members.

  2. Al Reasin on January 16, 2013 at 11:54 am

    “Moore told Cecil Times that she had reached out to Zeauskas in her interviews of potential applicants for the Council seat but he did not return her calls.” So typical of Chris, so sad.

  3. tina sharp on January 16, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    Becky demmler is a class act!

  4. Joe C> on January 17, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Both Becky and Joyce are great people, congrats to Joyce. What is sickening is the process on how they were chosen. This was not the intent of the charter, but a creation of someone who is obviously use to getting her own way.

    • Ron Lobos on January 18, 2013 at 8:25 am

      Joe, I beg to differ. It was seldom that Tari got her own way under the reign of the 3 Amigos. She probably feared (and so did I) that an appointment by the Smipkin-controlled RCC would result in a continuance of 2 more years of mayhem. The RCC had every chance to extend an olive branch and compromise with Tari but refused to do so and opted instead to insist on complete control of the decision.

      Chris Z didn’t even return a phone call to Tari to interview with her for the position. Can you tell me why he couldn’t even return a phone call when it involved a decision that was so dear to him that it precipitated a law suit on his behalf?

      • Joe C> on January 19, 2013 at 9:33 am

        Ron,
        You keep forgetting about Bill Feehly; he was not a Smipkin, but he was never given a chance. No vote was taken on any names. The RCC followed the written rules and the intent of the charter. It was Ms. Moore who twisted it to achieve her desired results.

        You claim mayhem, but different people would feel differently. For example, the folks around Rose’s Diner drug house probably do not think that the “three amigos” created mayhem. It is your opinion.

        As far as Chris Z. goes, you will have to ask him, but my feeling is he did not want to be part of the circus. While Ms. Moore‘s actions may be found to be legal, they were highly unethical. Furthermore, I believe it really shows a real lack of sound judgment. Why would you want to create a huge controversy when you are starting a new job and a new form of government?

    • Jackie on January 19, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      Actually, this was a creation of a council which was tasked with the job of selecting a replacement, which they (at least half of them- Broomell and Dunn) willingly forfeited, refusing to discuss a process for moving forward with selecting Moore’s replacement. If the council had done its job, Moore wouldn’t have had the obligation to choose her replacement. Nonetheless, she chose someone who is not only a Republican, but is also very capable and professional.

  5. Stupid Intolerant on January 17, 2013 at 9:50 pm

    Dear Mr. C, I find your choice of words puzzling.”Sickening”? Certainly you jest.The last board of commissioners nauseated the citizens of this county so bad they will never win an election again. “Someone who is obviously use to getting her own way”? Wasn’t the executive on the short end of almost every vote at the hands of the afforementioned majority? If you wanted to see “someone used to getting her own way” you should have seen the tantrum at Tuesday’s morning meeting.

    • Joe C> on January 19, 2013 at 9:46 am

      SI,
      Sounds like you like things your way also! You say it nauseated people– did you ever think that there are people out there in Cecil County that agree with some of the decisions made during the last commissioner cycle. Just because you did not like a decision that does not mean that they were right or wrong. We can also debate what is a good decision and bad decision, but in my mind there is no debate for ethical behavior.

      Ms. Moore’s action on this matter was unethical and that is the bottom line. You do not stand with a party because you know they are popular and gaining strength only to abandon them to achieve your goals. This is called “flying a false flag” and is considered a security risk by counterintelligence personnel.

      • Craig R on January 21, 2013 at 11:20 am

        I would say the Republican Party as represented by “Friends of EJ Pipkin” are the ones who abandoned Ms. Moore by their actions during the last election cycle. I believe that was dismissed as just politics yet you’re calling this unethical. I would ask those “friends” to do something constructive and withdraw their frivolous lawsuit(s) so our elected officials can get back to the important business of running the County. If the pettiness continues, I believe many more will become “Unafilliated.”

      • Stupid Intolerant on January 21, 2013 at 5:50 pm

        Mr.C, I find it surprising you implied I’m spoiled. Let’s take a look at things that didn’t go my way: Aston pointe, Artesian,Stuart Properties,Lowell McCoy,… Buddy for Life, unqualified crony appointments to liquor board, ethics commission and others to name a few. This past election indicated I’m not alone. Where do you stand on these decisions Joe? I stood on principle with Tari on almost every one, which is fiscal conservativism, private property rights and limited government. And you are correct,the dept. of Homeland Security now defines me as a threat because of these principles.

  6. Scott Aro on January 19, 2013 at 8:27 pm

    I really appreciate Cecil Times for their reporting on this and other county government issues – please keep up the good work.

    As far as the future of Cecil County politics, unfortunately for the citizens of Cecil, the decorum and character of our local politics are hardly worth praise.

    The ‘mayhem’ and attempted obstructionism that has been perpetuated by Broommell, Dunn, and their sponsors will undoubtedly continue for the next two years. Cecil Times will have plenty to write about I’m sure. Until the remaining two amigos are removed from office at the next election (just 22 months away), we will continue to be tortured by their childish antics and immature tantrums.

    Cecil County should rejoice that Tari had the courage to take control of the situation with her change from the Republican party. As a Republican myself, I have been ashamed to be considered to be in the same party as Broomell, Dunn, and the recently removed 3rd amigo.

    Once again, keep up the good work Cecil Times!!!

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