Cecil County Council: Shoutouts, Callouts, and Other Drama on Lawsuits, Ethics, Videos
When someone offers a âshout-out,â in the current slang parlance, it is usually a good-natured verbal hello to a friend, while a âcall-outâ is a throw-down-the-gauntlet challenge. But those distinctions were blurred Tuesday at a Cecil County Council worksession in Elkton when Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) tried to call out the county attorney and also shouted at a citizen in the audience.
Broomell also discussed operations of the countyâs Ethics Commission that prompted other members of the Council to question how she knew so much about activities of the panel that are supposed to be confidential.
The drama began when Broomell questioned County Attorney Jason Allison about procedures leading up to the settlement of a lawsuit filed against the county by York Building Products, Inc. on a rezoning issue. [SEE Cecil Times report on the settlement here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/06/cecil-county-twilight-zone-broomell-rants-over-court-settlements-reversal-of-amigos-2011-zoning-coup/ ]
Some of her constituents are âvery upset,â she said, and are âfeeling like the whole process has been compromised.â
Allison explained that the property in question had been zoned M2, or heavy industrial usage, âgoing back to the Sixtiesâ but that designation had been removed âby a purely legislative actâ by the former County Commissioners board in 2011. (The old Three Amigos majority of the board, led by Broomell, rezoned the parcel NAR (northern agricultural), contrary to the recommendations of the county Planning Commission and a 40+ member citizenâs panel that drafted the countyâs new Comprehensive plan.)
Allison said he had convened an early May meeting of âinterested parties,â including local residents, to get âtheir feedbackâ on a proposed settlement that would nullify the NAR designation and return the property to its long-held M2 status. He said he also conducted a closed-door briefing of the County Council shortly thereafter.
âThis was not a cloak and daggerâ operation, Allison said. âWe tried to pursue this in a way that was transparent and inclusive.â
But Broomell challenged what Allison did or did not tell the Council and insisted that she be allowed to listen to an audiotape of the closed session.
âIâm not sure [whatâs] the point,â said County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5). âItâs really not a productive exercise; we are where we are.â And there is no real purpose to âgo backwardsâ to try to âprove what he said, she said.â
âItâs OK to go backwards when it fits your agenda,â Broomell retorted.
Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) offered an amendment permitting all members of the Council to listen to the tape collectively, not just Broomell, and eventually the council agreed, 4-1, with Hodge voting no.
âSo you can tell me what I heard?â Broomell declared.
Broomell then raised questions about why there were no lobbyists registered with the countyâs Ethics Commission and said it would be a âgood startâ for the panel to send letters to companies doing business with the county, seeking their registration. She suggested that Allison had advised the ethics panel against such letters.
Allison, who is a former member and chairman of the countyâs ethics panel until he resigned over a year ago, responded that any advice he rendered to the panel in his current role as county attorney was âprivileged.â And any suggestion that he tried to prevent lobbyist registrations âis an absurd statement.â
It would be âpresumptiveâ and âquestionable,â Allison said, to send letters to all vendors implying they are lobbyists simply because they might do business with the county or responded to a competitive bid process. (Legally, lobbyists are defined as people paid a fee or salary to attempt to influence legislation or other actions by a government entity.)
Hodge told Broomell âthatâs not your roleâ to interject herself into the operations of the ethics panel and âtrying to blame it on Jason is totally inappropriate.â
And, Hodge added, âHow does Diana Broomell know everything that this commission is doingâ when its deliberations are supposed to be âconfidential.â
âYouâre making an accusation,â Broomell said.
âI am,â Hodge responded.
One of Broomellâs close allies, Walter Rozanski, was removed from the ethics panel by County Executive Tari Moore recentlyâas she is empowered to do for any and all appointees to county boards and commissionsâdue to concerns about his ability to be âimpartialâ in light of critical comments he had made on social media and in emails about county officials. [SEE exclusive Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/06/rozanski-ousted-from-cecil-county-ethics-panel-broomell-ally-and-donor-was-critic-of-moore-hodge/ ]
Meanwhile, the drama continued when the Council considered a proposal to hire a vendor to provide Internet-based video coverage of the usual four Council worksessions and two evening legislative meetings per month. Scott Mesneak, the countyâs Information Technology director, told the Council Tuesday that the best offer came from Swagit and the services would cost $1,250 for start-up expenses plus $1,050 per month to provide coverage of 75 meetings per yearâa total of $12,600 a year, plus the startup expenses in the first year. (The video services would not be permanently archived as the current county-provided audio services are.)
Broomell has long advocated videotaping of county government meetings, on top of the current audio taping of meetings posted on the countyâs website by county staff at no extra costs. She voiced her support for the video services, as a way to keep government officials âhonest,â with an attack on fellow Councilors about expenditures for technology upgrades of the Seneca Point sewage plant and the usage of the countyâs reserves or âfund balanceâ money to balance the new Fiscal 2014 budget.
âThe only way that you can keep governments honest is for the people in the government to be honest,â said Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1). âPhotographing dishonesty doesnât make it honest,â he added, as the room burst into laughter.
âFear is very close to respect,â responded Broomell, saying that she believed that government officials must have âfear of being caughtâ in wrongdoing to behave honestly.
âI have heard time and time and time again that Charter government is costing us too much money,â said Bowlsbey, explaining why she would not vote to approve the video expenditures now.
As Broomell went on with her comments, she looked into the audience at Al Reasin, a member of the Cecil County Patriots citizensâ group, who was videotaping the meeting. âWhy are you laughing,â she said.
Reasin responded, saying âYes, I find it funnyâ and added that he only gets a maximum of 20 âhitsâ on each meeting video he posts on YouTubeâat his own expense and after investing many hours of work and effort to record and post the videos.
âMr. ReasinâŚMr. Tea Party,â Broomell said loudly, adding the comments âhypocrisyâ and âhypocriticalâ as Reasin responded, âThank you.â
After some cross-talk and raised voices, Hodge gaveled the Council and called a vote on a motion by McCarthy to table the issue of spending money for video services. The motion won approval, 3-2, with Hodge, McCarthy and Bowlsbey voting to table while Broomell and Councilor Michael Dunn (R-3) voted no.
Broomell then began an attack on âthose propaganda newspapers,â to which McCarthy interjected, âIâm moving we adjourn this meeting. Itâs a waste of time.â
The Council then ended the meeting without a formal vote on packing it in.
(To see a video of the videotaping debate, you can watch Reasinâs posting on YouTube–part 2 of the worksession– with the drama on videotaping beginning at 58.50 minutes, at this link: