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Cecil County Council: Shoutouts, Callouts, and Other Drama on Lawsuits, Ethics, Videos

June 12, 2013
By Nancy Schwerzler

When someone offers a ‘shout-out,’ in the current slang parlance, it is usually a good-natured verbal hello to a friend, while a ‘call-out’ 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 county’s 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 “very upset,” she said, and are “feeling like the whole process has been compromised.”

Allison explained that the property in question had been zoned M2, or heavy industrial usage, “going back to the Sixties” but that designation had been removed “by a purely legislative act” 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 citizen’s panel that drafted the county’s new Comprehensive plan.)

Allison said he had convened an early May meeting of “interested parties,” including local residents, to get “their feedback” 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.

“This was not a cloak and dagger” operation, Allison said. “We tried to pursue this in a way that was transparent and inclusive.”

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.

“I’m not sure [what’s] the point,” said County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5). “It’s really not a productive exercise; we are where we are.” And there is no real purpose to “go backwards” to try to “prove what he said, she said.”

“It’s OK to go backwards when it fits your agenda,” 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.

“So you can tell me what I heard?” Broomell declared.

Broomell then raised questions about why there were no lobbyists registered with the county’s Ethics Commission and said it would be a “good start” 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 county’s 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 “privileged.” And any suggestion that he tried to prevent lobbyist registrations “is an absurd statement.”

It would be “presumptive” and “questionable,” 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 “that’s not your role” to interject herself into the operations of the ethics panel and “trying to blame it on Jason is totally inappropriate.”

And, Hodge added, “How does Diana Broomell know everything that this commission is doing” when its deliberations are supposed to be “confidential.”

“You’re making an accusation,” Broomell said.

“I am,” Hodge responded.

One of Broomell’s close allies, Walter Rozanski, was removed from the ethics panel by County Executive Tari Moore recently—as she is empowered to do for any and all appointees to county boards and commissions—due to concerns about his ability to be ‘impartial” 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 county’s 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 year—a 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 county’s website by county staff at no extra costs. She voiced her support for the video services, as a way to keep government officials “honest,” with an attack on fellow Councilors about expenditures for technology upgrades of the Seneca Point sewage plant and the usage of the county’s reserves or “fund balance” money to balance the new Fiscal 2014 budget.

“The only way that you can keep governments honest is for the people in the government to be honest,” said Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1). “Photographing dishonesty doesn’t make it honest,” he added, as the room burst into laughter.

“Fear is very close to respect,” responded Broomell, saying that she believed that government officials must have “fear of being caught” in wrongdoing to behave honestly.

“I have heard time and time and time again that Charter government is costing us too much money,” 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 citizens’ group, who was videotaping the meeting. “Why are you laughing,” she said.

Reasin responded, saying “Yes, I find it funny” and added that he only gets a maximum of 20 “hits” on each meeting video he posts on YouTube—at his own expense and after investing many hours of work and effort to record and post the videos.

“Mr. Reasin…Mr. Tea Party,” Broomell said loudly, adding the comments “hypocrisy” and “hypocritical” as Reasin responded, “Thank you.”

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 “those propaganda newspapers,” to which McCarthy interjected, “I’m moving we adjourn this meeting. It’s a waste of time.”

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 Reasin’s posting on YouTube–part 2 of the worksession– with the drama on videotaping beginning at 58.50 minutes, at this link:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrTmSr6SVgc

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4 Responses to Cecil County Council: Shoutouts, Callouts, and Other Drama on Lawsuits, Ethics, Videos

  1. Harriet S on June 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    It is such a shame that the Charter government has no mechanism for removing County Council members from their position. There are two members who would immediately come to mind. Dunn for his inability to atttend most meetings and he is just a minion for Smigiel and Broomell, whose only interest is to flagrantly malign the majority of the County Council. This woman is seriously … challenged and is not qualified to represent anyone, especially the taxpayers. We are all very familiar with her tricks of her trade. Flagrant misjustice to the residents of Cecil County.

  2. Al Reasin on June 13, 2013 at 7:24 am

    Unfortunately the MD constitution doesn’t allow for recall except for criminal activity and thus from my research, no other government entity can recall either.

  3. Bill Harris on June 13, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Good recap! Sometimes I wish that everyone who votes could see these meetings. Maybe Mr Patriots efforts should be advertised and more than 20 hits would transpire. Thereby informing the voting public!

    • Al Reasin on June 17, 2013 at 6:24 pm

      101 hits so far. The max before was 82.

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