Cecil County Council: Prayer, Politics, Politeness; Paging Dr. Phil?
The Cecil County Council could have used an intervention in Elkton Tuesdayâ€”perhaps by Dr. Phil rather than the Almightyâ€”when 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 â€ślady.â€ť
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 panelâ€™s 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 Tuesdayâ€™s debate was relatively brief.
Bowlsbey said, as she had previously, that she was concerned that a Councilorâ€™s prayer could be â€śused as a bully pulpitâ€ť from which to advance a memberâ€™s position on legislative issues. â€śIâ€™m very worried about us praying with a formal prayer.â€ť
â€śA moment of silence would be more than enough for me,â€ť said McCarthy.
â€śIâ€™m not interested,â€ť Hodge said, in having Council members â€śpray or preach to me or the audienceâ€ť at meetings. â€śI just donâ€™t want to hear it.â€ť
â€śItâ€™s disappointing to me, that here is a great opportunity to interject something that is positive,â€ť said Broomell. â€śI believe in the power of prayer.â€ť
The Council then voted 3-2 to reject Broomellâ€™s 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 â€śmoment of silent prayerâ€ť before meetings, with the same alignmentâ€”Hodge, McCarthy and Bowlsbeyâ€”voting 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 â€śdecorumâ€ť for Council membersâ€™ behavior at meetings. Instead, the debate got rowdy as Broomell attacked Hodge with broad allegations accusing him of working to â€śconsolidate powerâ€ť on behalf of â€śspecial interestsâ€ť 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, â€śIâ€™m a little paranoid.â€ť)
The Council considered a proposal to adopt â€śdecorumâ€ť rules that mirrored policies of the Caroline County Commissioners, providing that Council members â€śvalue 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€ť The members will also â€śnot speak disrespectfully or dismissively of each other.â€ť
But Broomell said she was â€śnot happyâ€ť with the proposal because Hodge, as the Council president, would be able to decide if she was complying with the decorum rules. â€śThereâ€™s a bias when Iâ€™m talking,â€ť she said, and â€śYou gavel me.â€ť She claimed that the decorum rules were â€śan attempt, I believe, to censor comments you donâ€™t want to hearâ€ť under the â€śguiseâ€ť of â€ścivility.â€ť
She launched a personal attack on Hodge, saying he had waged a long campaign aimed at â€śconsolidating power, and youâ€™ve been very effective.â€ť Broomell went on to accuse Hodge of being a pawn of â€śspecial interestsâ€ť 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 Mooreâ€™s Council seat as part of a plan to have the council â€śwalking in lockstepâ€ť with Moore as County Executive.
Hodge sought to bring the discussion back to the wording of the legislative proposal, to which Broomell declared, â€śYouâ€™re cutting me off.â€ť Hodge sounded a conciliatory note, saying â€śWe all, all five of usâ€¦over the last six months have gone overboard and crossed the lineâ€ť in debates.
Broomell tried, several times with varying wording, to formulate a motion providing that â€śthe Council President will not censor members if he doesnâ€™t like where the conversation is going,â€ť and then re-wording her motion to state that a Council member would not be â€śgaveled or censored if the President doesnâ€™t likeâ€ť a memberâ€™s comments, and then she offered yet another variation of the language, stating that â€śas long as a Council member stays on point the Council President cannot censor the member.â€ť
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, Hodgeâ€”for the first time in the long discussionâ€”hit his gavel, and said, â€śThatâ€™s exactly what weâ€™re talking about.â€ť He said the attack on Bowlsbey was â€śtotally inappropriateâ€ť and â€śdemeaningâ€ť to Bowlsbey. He urged Broomell to take a â€śtime outâ€ť and â€śleave it off the table, forever.â€ť
â€śNope,â€ť responded a defiant Broomell.
McCarthy said Broomell was engaging in â€śexactlyâ€ť the kind of behavior that the decorum rules were designed to stop. â€śItâ€™s a personal attack, lady.â€ť
â€śYou didnâ€™t have to put the lady on the end there,â€ť Broomell shot back.
â€śYouâ€™re not a lady? Excuse me, I thought I was basically holding you to a higher standard,â€ť McCarthy retorted.
As the rhetorical temperature in the room escalated, the Council eventually voted, 3-2, to reject Broomellâ€™s 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.