Cecil County Council Behaves Politely, for a Change, Under the Watchful Eye of the Law
What a difference a Deputy in the room makes.
After a raucous Cecil County Council worksession last week at which Councilor Diana Broomell shouted at another lawmaker to “shut up,” on Tuesday the voices were hushed, the tone polite and Broomell even raised her hand to ask permission to speak. Seated a few feet away was a deputy Sheriff, in full uniform, just in case the Council president needed someone to escort a misbehaving Council member from the room.
Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) initiated a discussion of the Council’s rules of decorum, in the aftermath of last week’s Broomell meltdown, telling the full Council on Tuesday that recent events had been an “embarrassment” to the Council “and Cecil County government in general.” Henceforth, he said, the rules would be strictly enforced, so that “meetings are orderly, civil, professional and efficient.”
[SEE previous Cecil Times report on the previous meeting meltdown here: http://ceciltimes.com/2014/02/political-paranoia-on-shocking-display-at-cecil-county-council-broomell-loses-control/ ]
And “if some Council members want to say I am infringing on their right to freedom of speech, so be it,” Hodge said.
Broomell did just that, saying the rules were being “enforced one way” and should also apply to members of the audience. But Hodge replied that the Council’s rules of procedure only applied to the council members themselves and if she wanted to discuss audience behavior that was a topic for another day.
“The rules have been put together and enforced for the sole purpose of shutting me down,” Broomell said. “You’re picking and choosing which rules you want to enforce.”
Hodge told Broomell it was not her disagreements with fellow Council members that were at issue but how she handles her objections. “It’s not what you say but how you say it,” he said, calling her frequent outbursts, interruptions and accusations against others “disrespectful” and “demeaning.”
Broomell complained that “all other avenues have been shut down” to air her grievances and that speaking out at public meetings was her only alternative. “I’d love to talk about the attempts I’ve made,” she said. (Broomell filed an ethics complaint last year against Hodge with the county’s Ethics Commission, which rejected her accusations.)
Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1) offered his version of the Golden Rule that he said members of the Council should abide by. “Be polite and respectful… don’t question or assume ulterior motives,” he said.
Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2), who was told to “shut up” by Broomell last week, said the Council members “need to stay focused” on the individual items on a meeting agenda and not stray off the topic to re-hash other past complaints.
For the rest of the meeting, which moved swiftly from item to item without the usual verbal battles that have bogged down other recent sessions, members asked permission to speak, avoided most interruptions and generally behaved like adults. The deputy in the corner was thus not pressed into service.
The Council voted, 3-2, to write a letter supporting a request by the three judges of the county’s Orphan’s Court to ask the General Assembly to approve legislation providing a phased-in salary increase due to increasing workloads and no pay boost since 2002. The judges are currently paid $5,500 a year.
The request called for boosting the judges’ pay to $6,500 in Fiscal 2016; $7,500 in Fiscal 2017; and $8,750 I Fiscal 2018.
Bowlsbey said that the county’s population, and cases coming before the panel, had grown significantly during the more than a decade since the court members had received a pay boost so she believed the request was “justified.”
Broomell wanted to delay sending a letter to the county’s legislative delegation in Annapolis so she could get more information. But the council’s manager, James Massey, pointed out that the remaining days for legislative business in Annapolis were running out and that this request would have to be addressed via an amendment to another bill being sponsored by the delegation.
The court judges were belated in presenting their request, and under state law, a pay boost cannot take effect until a new court is seated after an election. The three seats will be on the ballot in this year’s election, so failure to win General Assembly approval for a pay raise now would mean any increase could not take effect until after the 2018 election.
So the Council voted, 3-2, to support the pay boost in a letter to the delegation. Hodge, Bowlsbey and McCarthy voted for the proposal while Broomell and Councilor Michael Dunn (R-3) voted no.