Cecil County Exec Offers Limits on Power to Remove Appointees; Ethics Panel Seeks More Rules after Ouster of a Member
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore has drafted proposals to restrict her own power, granted by the county Charter, to remove appointees to county boards and commissions, according to proposals discussed at a meeting of the county’s Ethics Commission in Elkton late Monday afternoon.
A member of the ethics panel, Walter Rozanski, was removed by Moore recently amidst concerns about his ability to be “impartial” in light of his postings on social media attacking Moore and members of the County Council, county department heads and others. [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/ ]
It was the first open meeting of the ethics panel, according to its chair, Valerie Falcioni, and she said that the currently four-member commission wanted to be “transparent” in its operations, except in discussions of complaints that are, by law, confidential.
Falcioni outlined a list of six provisions that she said had been proposed by Moore—as potential amendments to the county code– to establish criteria for removal of appointees from all county boards and commissions, not just the ethics panel, “for cause.” Those “cause” criteria were:
–“Substantial neglect of duty”
–“Inability to discharge powers and duties”
–Conviction of a “crime of moral turpitude” or a felony
–Violation of a state or county ethics laws
–Violation of any county, state or federal law governing campaign finance or lobbying
In addition, an appointee could be removed if he/she moved residence outside the county.
Under the county Charter, the executive has full power to remove an existing appointee. However, any new appointment would have to be approved by the County Council. In practical political terms, if the county executive acted arbitrarily or without cause, the Council could refuse to confirm any new appointee. In that way, the Council would exercise a ‘checks and balance’ role in reviewing the executive’s actions.
But members of the ethics panel are seeking written limits on the executive’s powers. Falcioni said the ethics panel wanted even more limits than the new provisions suggested by Moore. Falcioni advocated procedural steps including a requirement for a formal “notice of dismissal,” prior to a removal action by the county executive, and requiring that a proposed dismissee be allowed to present a “reply before being dismissed, just to have balance.”
Rozanski attended the Monday afternoon meeting and, while he refused to comment on his ouster to Cecil Times previously, he spoke out in his own defense from the audience sidelines.
“I have a perfectly clean record myself,” Rozanski declared. He also issued a veiled attack on other current ethics panel members.
Rozanski’s ouster was related to his outspoken criticisms of county officials, including some against whom ethics complaints might have been filed, and usage of inflammatory language. In addition to commentary previously cited in reports by Cecil Times, additional Rozanski social media comments have surfaced.
“The real power lies with Boss Hog,” Rozanski wrote on 5/15, referring to County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5). In another posting, he embraced a slanderous allegation against Hodge made by Councilor Michael Dunn (R-3), who was operating under a cloak of legal immunity against slander or libel actions afforded to elected officials speaking at official meetings. However, Rozanski’s allegations would not be legally protected in his Facebook postings.
And, in a 5/16 posting, Rozanski criticized the county’s handling of upgrades of the Seneca Point sewage treatment plant and said “Moore waste is disgusting and maybe criminal.”
Rozanski was originally appointed to the ethics panel with the endorsement of Dunn and Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4). Broomell also used her clout as ringleader of the old “Three Amigos” majority of the County Commissioners board to extend Rozanski’s previously approved term of office by two additional years.
Falcioni said Monday that the ethics panel was concerned that the county executive “has the ability to summarily dismiss any person for any reason,” and that could lead to “a lot of room for political payback.” Members of virtually all county boards and commissions—except for the liquor board—are considered volunteers and are not compensated for their service.
But any revision of the county code would require approval by the County Council, where a new three-member majority is usually supportive of Moore. However, those members are also supportive of the county’s new Charter and its provisions to make the county executive the powerful CEO of county government. And one Councilor—Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2)—is the former chair of the panel that drafted the Charter for the county that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in the 2010 election.
Cecil Times has contacted Moore for comment on her reasons for suggesting the draft proposals limiting her own power, as outlined by the ethics panel, and will update this report upon her response.
[UPDATE: County Executive Moore, recovering from an illness that kept her out of her office on Tuesday, told Cecil Times Tuesday evening that she did not consider her proposals as a limitation on her authority but instead an opportunity to let all appointees to boards and commissions know what is expected of them.
“I don’t see it as restricting the County Executive,” she said. The proposals, still in a preliminary draft stage, would “hold everyone to a higher authority” and set “a level of expectations.”
She conceded that the term “gross negligence” might need further clarification She also said she would like to see the ethics panel include in its procedures a timeline for responses to complaints, so that people against whom a complaint is filed are not kept dangling in uncertainty for many months about the process of reviewing and resolving the matter. ]