Cecil County Council: Potty Mouths, Potty Breaks, Port-a-Potties; Decorum Degenerates, Hodge Biz Plans Get Cold Shoulders
The Cecil County Council, which has spent much of its ten months of existence arguing over how members should behave, dissolved into yet another verbal slugfest Tuesday over how to enforce standards of “decorum”—and an unusual split among the current panel majority over a plan by Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) to help local businesses to get a piece of the financial action on local government contracts.
At the Council’s Tuesday morning worksession, a revised version of previously proposed steps to enforce standards of proper behavior among members of the County Council was denounced by Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) as “watered down to the point of being useless.”
His objections were to proposed revisions, drafted by Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4), that emphasized sanctions that should be imposed on members of the audience at Council meetings, rather than provisions previously proposed that mirrored the standard “Roberts Rules of Order” that empower the presiding officer—usually, the Council President—to impose order and gavel offending Councilors to silence, an apology, or in the extreme, banishment from a meeting.
So McCarthy made a motion to simply scrap detailed and escalating levels of sanctions and instead use the Roberts Rules provisions that would empower the presiding officer to determine the severity of the offense and appropriate sanctions, subject to a majority vote of the full Council.
McCarthy said he was tired of the many months of “childish antics” and “rhetorical turmoil” that the Council had endured at the hands of an “obstreperous individual.” And in case there was any doubt—which there wasn’t in the meeting room– Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) chimed in that in her view the chief offender was Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4).
“She has had the microphone for three-quarters of the time easily” at council meetings, Bowlsbey said of Broomell.
Indeed, Broomell began the worksession by trying to re-write the minutes of a past meeting to cast herself in a positive light by inserting multiple lengthy statements of her views, whereas the minutes are supposed to reflect a basic outline of what votes were taken and actions recorded at a Council meeting.
But Broomell shot back that any attempts to limit the speech of a Councilor amounted to censorship and that the Council’s rules should impose the same escalating steps of sanctions on members of the audience at Council meetings.
The Council majority “wants to restrict my freedom of speech,” Broomell declared. She also said that the discussion “proved my point” that Hodge– who at several points rapped his gavel as Broomell interrupted other Councilor’s statements—was out to silence her. She accused Hodge of not “running clean meetings” of the Council.
Then Broomell accused McCarthy of having a “game plan” and a “well orchestrated” plan to “censor and shut down my objections” to various Council actions.
Ironically, McCarthy’s attempt to clear the underbrush of policies and procedures and use the Roberts Rules procedures– and give the Council President full authority to impose order– was resisted by Council President Hodge. Hodge wanted to persist with his previous 10-step program for imposing escalating sanctions for bad behavior—such as bad-mouthing fellow Councilors, interrupting a member who has the floor to speak, etc.—that could lead up to removal from a meeting under certain serious circumstances.
“You have all the teeth you need,” McCarthy told Hodge. “You are the president, you maintain order.”
But Hodge bristled at the suggestion that he take full responsibility for interpreting infractions and enforcing order at Council meetings, saying, “Mr. McCarthy, you are almost getting as bad as Mrs. Broomell.”
Shortly thereafter, McCarthy briefly left the meeting room—to go to the men’s room, he said later—but there was a motion by McCarthy on the table to just go with the Roberts Rules provisions to enforce decorum and scrap the Hodge and Broomell alternatives. Broomell tried to force a vote, but Hodge declined to call a vote on the motion. But Hodge also got in a shot at McCarthy, saying he was “very disappointed” in McCarthy for leaving.
(Nowhere in the existing Council operating procedures does it state that a Councilor must request prior approval of the Council President to go to the bathroom.)
Meanwhile, Hodge presented a revised version of a previously proposed plan to create non-binding “incentives” for contractors on county government construction projects to use local Cecil County subcontractors, employees, and materials—from cement to gravel to Port-A-Potties– on construction sites.
But a solid majority of the Council indicated their objections– suggesting that the proposed requirement that contractors show a “good faith effort” to use local subcontractors, employees and materials — could raise costs to the county, violate Constitutional provisions and impose new regulatory burdens on business. [ SEE previous Cecil Times report on Hodge’s plan here: http://ceciltimes.com/2013/07/local-bid-preferences-backed-by-cecil-county-council-chief-hodge-as-state-attorney-general-backs-similar-steps-local-staff-political-clan-critical/ ]
McCarthy took the strongest stand against a slightly revised version of the initial Hodge proposal that was presented on Tuesday, saying, “As much as I would like to support this initiative, I cannot.”
McCarthy detailed several practical and legal points—including Constitutional questions, the costs of having county purchasing employees try to gauge the vague criteria of general contractors making a ‘good faith’ effort to use local workers and suppliers, and the potential of resulting higher costs for bidders or qualified bidders simply refusing to bid at all because of the added mandates and paperwork of such requirements.
Hodge said his plan was not a “mandate” at all and if the county “did not ask, we won’t receive.”
“Then why bother to do it at all,” McCarthy asked. Under questioning by McCarthy, county attorney Jason Allison indicated the proposal might not pass legal muster for various reasons, including Constitutional issues. One key point is interstate commerce questions raised by Cecil County’s location adjacent to the state lines of Delaware and Pennsylvania.
Councilors Bowlsbey and Broomell also indicated various objections to the revised Hodge proposal, suggesting a majority of the Council was not inclined to support the Hodge plan.