Cecil County Council Seeks to Curb Food Fights with Possible ‘Time Outs’ for Members’ Misbehavior
Recent meetings of the Cecil County Council have looked and sounded like school kids in a cafeteria food fight but Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) is looking to impose new discipline on councilors, including possible mandatory ‘time outs.’
“Our behavior makes a difference,” Hodge said at the 9/10/13 Council worksession in Elkton. In particular, the uproar at the previous worksession was “an embarrassment for the County Council.” At that meeting, Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) called out Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) over what he said was her repeated “venomous” attacks on fellow members of the Council. But Hodge also joined in to respond in strong terms to months of personal attacks on him by Broomell. [ SEE previous Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/09/cecil-county-council-let-them-eat-cake-broomell-melts-as-mccarthy-slices-her-venomous-icing-hodges-double-dip-dare/ ]
“I think we’ve all crossed the line,” Hodge said, adding he was not singling out any one councilor for bad behavior. But he did note that Councilor Michael Dunn (R-5) had refrained from the recent spate of negative attacks. Dunn usually sits in silence at most Council meetings. (But early in the year he read from written notes to attack Hodge and County Executive Tari Moore with unsubstantiated accusations that they were in cahoots with various special interests.)
The Council worked for most of the year to draft and recently approve a ‘policy and procedures’ manual, which included a code of conduct for Council members that specified that members should treat each other with respect and refrain from personal attacks. But, Hodge conceded, Council members have violated their own rules—which currently have no penalties for non-compliance.
So Hodge said he wanted to ask Council Manager James Massey and County Attorney Jason Allison to develop possible sanctions that could be imposed on Councilors who violated the decorum rules. Any changes in the policies would have to be formally approved by the Council, after public hearings.
McCarthy, citing possible sanctions provided under the classic “Robert’s Rules of Order” for conducting public meetings, noted that a violator might be ordered to apologize for a personal attack on another councilor; censured by a majority vote of the panel; or as a last resort removed from an official meeting. The Council might also simply adjourn a meeting or take a dispute into a closed session, he added.
Broomell strongly opposed such proposals, but unlike her past interruptions and outbursts, at several points Broomell raised her hand like a school pupil seeking recognition from the teacher—or in this case, Council President Hodge.
“The ultimate goal is to censor” comments by some members of the Council, Broomell said. She said Hodge was “selectively enforcing” current operating procedures and that she feared that a “majority rule” of the Council would impede the rights of the minority of the panel.
Hodge, McCarthy and Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) have generally voted as a majority of the new County Council while Broomell and Dunn usually have voted together in the minority. That is a sea change, role reversal of the old “Three Amigos” dominance of the former County Commissioners’ board, when Broomell was the power linchpin of a ruling majority along with Dunn and ex-Commissioner James Mullin (R-1), who was defeated by McCarthy in the GOP primary last year.
Hodge said he was “not going to allow” continued personal attacks among members of the Council and said the panel’s meetings were “not the forum to be talking bad” about other councilors. “You have to have the evidence to back up whatever your personal feelings are.”
“You’re in the wrong business,” Broomell told Hodge, suggesting that politics was a rough game and he should get used to it. She said the Council meetings were the appropriate place to raise questions and put her concerns “in the record” so that the public is aware of them. “There is media out there,” Broomell said, that do not reflect her concerns so the official record of Council meetings should do so.
Eventually, the Council voted 3-2 to direct Massey and Allison to come up with proposals for putting teeth into the policy and procedures manual’s decorum standards. Broomell and Dunn voted no.
But don’t think the kids in the school cafeteria are going to pack up their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles metal lunchboxes and play nicely together during recess. The Council is scheduled to take up the decorum issue again at the next worksession on Tuesday.