Cecil County Council: Prayer, Politics, Politeness; Paging Dr. Phil?
The Cecil County Council could have used an intervention in Elkton Tuesdayâperhaps by Dr. Phil rather than the Almightyâwhen they argued about praying before meetings and how polite they should be to one another during meetings.
Ultimately, a 3-2 majority decided on a moment of silence rather than spoken prayers before meetings and by another 3-2 vote decreed that Councilors should refrain from personal attacks on each other during debates. But not before Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) made personal attacks on Council President Robert Hodge (R-5), Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) and County Executive Tari Moore.
Broomell also took offense when Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) referred to her as a âlady.â
At issue is a handbook of policies and procedures for the new County Council, which the panel has been laboring over since shortly after the Council came into existence under Charter government last December. After multiple drafts and meetings to discuss the outlines, the Council was trying to put the finishing touches on the document.
Broomell had previously proposed inserting language to have Council members lead a spoken prayer to open the panelâs formal evening legislative meetings, held twice a month. The Council debated the issue in detail a week ago [SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/05/cecil-county-council-prayer-politics-and-websites/ ] so the outcome was not really in doubt and Tuesdayâs debate was relatively brief.
Bowlsbey said, as she had previously, that she was concerned that a Councilorâs prayer could be âused as a bully pulpitâ from which to advance a memberâs position on legislative issues. âIâm very worried about us praying with a formal prayer.â
âA moment of silence would be more than enough for me,â said McCarthy.
âIâm not interested,â Hodge said, in having Council members âpray or preach to me or the audienceâ at meetings. âI just donât want to hear it.â
âItâs disappointing to me, that here is a great opportunity to interject something that is positive,â said Broomell. âI believe in the power of prayer.â
The Council then voted 3-2 to reject Broomellâs prayer motion, with Hodge, McCarthy and Bowlsbey voting against and Broomell and Councilor Michael Dunn (R-3) voting for it. Then the Council voted 3-2 to allow a âmoment of silent prayerâ before meetings, with the same alignmentâHodge, McCarthy and Bowlsbeyâvoting yes and Broomell and Dunn voting no.
More than a few moments of silence might have been in order when the Council then turned to proposed rules of âdecorumâ for Council membersâ behavior at meetings. Instead, the debate got rowdy as Broomell attacked Hodge with broad allegations accusing him of working to âconsolidate powerâ on behalf of âspecial interestsâ and she suggested there was a political conspiracy involving Hodge, Moore and Bowlsbey, aimed at silencing her objections on policy matters.
(During discussion of an unrelated issue earlier in the meeting, Broomell said, âIâm a little paranoid.â)
The Council considered a proposal to adopt âdecorumâ rules that mirrored policies of the Caroline County Commissioners, providing that Council members âvalue the diverse perspectives of the members and will endeavor to keep debates focused and productive. They will not resort to personal attacks in the heat of disagreement.â The members will also ânot speak disrespectfully or dismissively of each other.â
But Broomell said she was ânot happyâ with the proposal because Hodge, as the Council president, would be able to decide if she was complying with the decorum rules. âThereâs a bias when Iâm talking,â she said, and âYou gavel me.â She claimed that the decorum rules were âan attempt, I believe, to censor comments you donât want to hearâ under the âguiseâ of âcivility.â
She launched a personal attack on Hodge, saying he had waged a long campaign aimed at âconsolidating power, and youâve been very effective.â Broomell went on to accuse Hodge of being a pawn of âspecial interestsâ who contributed to his election campaigns, had co-opted the local Patriots tea-party group for his own political agenda, and accused him and Moore of orchestrating the appointment of Bowlsbey to fill Mooreâs Council seat as part of a plan to have the council âwalking in lockstepâ with Moore as County Executive.
Hodge sought to bring the discussion back to the wording of the legislative proposal, to which Broomell declared, âYouâre cutting me off.â Hodge sounded a conciliatory note, saying âWe all, all five of usâŚover the last six months have gone overboard and crossed the lineâ in debates.
Broomell tried, several times with varying wording, to formulate a motion providing that âthe Council President will not censor members if he doesnât like where the conversation is going,â and then re-wording her motion to state that a Council member would not be âgaveled or censored if the President doesnât likeâ a memberâs comments, and then she offered yet another variation of the language, stating that âas long as a Council member stays on point the Council President cannot censor the member.â
Hodge pointed out that if he, as president, exceeded his authority, a majority vote of the Council could over-rule him in gaveling a Councilor for improper comments under the decorum rules.
After Broomell launched an attack on Bowlsbey, and the circumstances of her appointment by Moore to fill her vacant Council seat, Hodgeâfor the first time in the long discussionâhit his gavel, and said, âThatâs exactly what weâre talking about.â He said the attack on Bowlsbey was âtotally inappropriateâ and âdemeaningâ to Bowlsbey. He urged Broomell to take a âtime outâ and âleave it off the table, forever.â
âNope,â responded a defiant Broomell.
McCarthy said Broomell was engaging in âexactlyâ the kind of behavior that the decorum rules were designed to stop. âItâs a personal attack, lady.â
âYou didnât have to put the lady on the end there,â Broomell shot back.
âYouâre not a lady? Excuse me, I thought I was basically holding you to a higher standard,â McCarthy retorted.
As the rhetorical temperature in the room escalated, the Council eventually voted, 3-2, to reject Broomellâs variously worded proposals and decided on another 3-2 vote to adopt the decorum provisions. (Hodge, McCarthy and Bowlsbey voted together while Broomell and Dunn stuck together. As usual, nary a word was heard from Dunn during the discussions.)
The decorum rules did not provide for any outside advisors to review discussions for potential inappropriate statements. However, Bowlsbey recently told the Council that she had completed coursework for certification as a mental health intervention counselor.