Still No Cecil County Council Appointee; Moore Delays Action, Seeks Defense Lawyer
The new Cecil County Council continued its 2-2 stalemate Tuesday as Cecil County Executive Tari Moore held off on appointing a successor to her old District 2 seat and asked for approval of a special legal counsel to represent the county in possible court challenges to her appointment.
The County Council, in its first meeting of the new year, failed to act on approving several of Moore’s executive staff appointments. In December, the panel deadlocked, 2-2, on ratifying Al Wein—the veteran county administrator nominated by Moore to become the Director of Administration under the new Charter government. But with no new Council member to break the tie, this time the Council deferred formal action on several appointees since a deadlocked outcome was inevitable.
Also on Moore’s list of appointees are Winston Robinson, former chief financial officer for the City of Wilmington, DE and unsuccessful candidate for the Democratic nomination for Cecil County Executive, as Director of Finance; and Jason Allison, an Elkton lawyer, former chair of the county’s Ethics Commission and legal counsel to the county zoning Board of Appeals, to become the county attorney.
Moore has named all three as “acting” in their positions pending confirmation by the Council.
Moore told reporters that she had compiled a list of nine candidates for the vacant Council seat but had to cross off one name of an interested candidate because that individual did not live within the boundaries of her old Elkton-based District 2 seat. She said she would review candidates’ credentials and speak with them before making her formal decision. Moore said that key questions she would ask each candidate are “why do you want to be on the Council” and “can they be independent.”
The new County Executive said she had no specific timetable for the appointment but indicated she wanted to act as quickly as possible.
However, Moore is anticipating a potential legal challenge to her appointment and on Tuesday Allison conveyed her request to the County Council to seek approval for potential hiring of a Towson lawyer—Virginia Barnhart– and her law firm—Trainor, Pope and Hughes– to be ‘on call” to respond quickly if someone seeks an injunction against seating an appointee.
“We need to have a special counsel pre-approved and ready to go,” Allison said, adding that the need for a sudden response to a Circuit Court filing for an injunction could pose a “conflict” with his own duties as acting county attorney. He told reporters that the Towson firm was highly experienced in Charter government issues and had advised the Baltimore County government on legal matters.
The potential for legal challenges to an appointment to the vacant County Council seat stems from Moore’s decision to change her political party affiliation from Republican to “unaffiliated” several days before she resigned her old County Commissioners’ seat so as to be sworn in as County Executive. By doing so, Moore eliminated the role of the county’s Republican Central Committee, under the Charter, to submit a binding list of three names to the County Council to replace a sitting GOP commissioner/Council member.
Under the county’s new Charter form of government, the all-Republican County Council had until 1/3/13 to name an appointee to the vacant seat from its own list of candidates or the non-binding list of names offered by the GOP Central Committee, which is controlled by the Smipkin political organization led by Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, (R-36).
But the County Council did not make any decision by that deadline due to the deadlock between the Moore-aligned councilmen (Robert Hodge, R-5, and new member Dr. Alan McCarthy, R-1) and the remaining “Two Amigos” remnant faction of the old Commissioners board: Diana Broomell, R-4, and Michael Dunn, R-3. Both Broomell and Dunn are former employees of Smigiel and closely aligned with his political agenda.
Smigiel and Pipkin boycotted the swearing-in ceremony for Moore as County Executive, as did Broomell and Dunn. All of them have been highly critical of Moore’s decision to ‘unaffiliate” so as to prevent the Smipkins from having the deciding say in picking a new County Council member, and obvious perpetuation of the Smipkin-aligned “Three Amigos” majority that has controlled Cecil County government for the past two years.
Smigiel, an Elkton lawyer, was soundly defeated by voters in his election bid last year to obtain a Cecil County Circuit Court judgeship. He has a long record of filing lawsuits against the county government on a variety of issues, virtually all of which were unsuccessful. The state General Assembly convenes this week for its annual session, so Delegate Smigiel should be otherwise engaged in his taxpayer-paid job rather than hanging out in Elkton to file lawsuits against the county government.
Moore told reporters Tuesday that she had consulted with multiple lawyers on the potential ramifications of her decision to “unaffiliate” before making her decision to do so and she was confident that her actions would pass legal muster.
Meanwhile, the County Council perpetuated some of its past divisiveness as Broomell announced that she would oppose Jason Allison’s appointment as county attorney because, while chair of the county’s Ethics Commission, he disagreed with some of her demands. Broomell has demanded, and in some cases succeeded in getting the old County Commissioners board to adopt, county ethics panel standards that far exceed even new heightened statewide standards.
The current ethics panel is chaired by a longtime friend and political supporter of Broomell—Valerie Falcioni– and another member appointed with Broomell’s support—Walt Rozanski—is a political donor to Broomell and frequent social media commenter/ supporter of her and Dunn.