Joyce Bowlsbey, Former Charter Panel Chair, Named to Cecil County Council; Del. Smigiel Files Suit against County Exec Moore
Joyce Bowlsbey, a longtime community volunteer who chaired the citizensâ 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 appointmentâwhich he called a âcoup.â
Moore announced the appointment of Bowlsbey early Tuesday morning, shortly before a scheduled County Council worksession. Bowlsbey will serve the remaining two years of Mooreâs term in the Council seat, which Moore vacated when she was sworn in as County Executive on 12/3/12.
âJoyceâs qualifications, experience and passion made her an outstanding candidate for this position,â Moore said. âShe 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,â Moore added.
In accepting the appointment, Bowlsbey said she believed that âno Council member should have their own political agenda but instead we should all work together to move Cecil County forward.â She said she had âno hidden agendaâ and would âwork to create consensus among the council.â
But she was not shy about standing up to critics on the Council, saying, âIt has been insinuated that Executive Mooreâs replacement would be a puppetâŚno one pulls my strings, I am an independent thinker.â And with a laugh and a nod toward her husband sitting in the audience, she added, âJust ask my husband.â (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 CouncilâBroomell and Michael Dunn (R-3) â 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 organizationâheaded by Smigiel and state Sen. E.J. Pipkin– never goes down without a fight. So on Monday afternoon, Smigiel filed a lawsuit seeking âdeclaratory judgment, temporary restraining order, and preliminary and permanent injunctive reliefâ 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 morningâafter 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 countyâs 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 âpoorly writtenâ and vague on procedures for filling a vacancy and the act of Moore changing her political party registration from Republican to âunaffiliatedâ does not really change her longstanding âaffiliationâ 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 âunaffiliatedâ member, the Council is not bound by a party committeeâs list of names.
One of Smigielâs claims is that a court should order a RCC list of names be submitted to the Council. The RCC already did that, including Zeauskasâ name, but the Council did not act on any nominationsâthrowing the ball into Mooreâs court under the Charter. The charter does not mandate that the Council has to act on a party committeeâs 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 RCCâs nominees.
Ever the overblown political rhetoric slinger even in his legal filings, Smigiel alleges that Moore has âtaken advantage of the political chaos she created through her act of deceptionâ and is âattempting 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 GovernmentâŚâ
Smigiel also asserts that the reason Moore won the November election for county executive âand beat a more experienced and qualified Democratic candidate [was] due to the Republican party efforts, affiliation and fundingâ 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 âunaffiliatedâ 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 âaffiliatedâ with the party despite her changed voter registration. And he declares that the charter does not define the term âparty member.â
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 (âMap 10â) 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, Zeauskasâin a filing accompanying the lawsuitâalleges that the submitted map hurts citizens by âarbitrarily taking of their property rights.â Zeauskas never attended a commissionersâ worksession or meeting at which the tier maps were discussed.
Smigiel has already lost round oneâseeking to prevent the appointment and swearing-in of anyone not on the RCCâs 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 Smigielâs 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 Chamberâs 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 countyâs Planning Commission and the Economic Development Commission.
As the chair of the Cecil County Charter Board, Bowlsbey led the citizensâ group that drafted the Charter that was overwhelmingly approved by Cecil County voters in 2010âafter multiple failed attempts to change the countyâs form of government in the past. She also led the âFriends of Charterâ group that campaigned to win voter support of the shift from a five-member County Commissionerâs 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 principalsâSmigiel and state Sen. E.J. Pipkinâvehemently 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)ârefused 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 âthe fox in the hen house.â 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 âfoxâ and a âfoxy lady.â
[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.]