Political Paranoia on Shocking Display at Cecil County Council; Broomell Loses Control
â€śParanoia strikes deep,
Into your life it will creep;
Starts when youâ€™re always afraid,
Step out of line, the man come and take you awayâ€¦â€ť
–Buffalo Springfield song, â€śFor What Itâ€™s Worthâ€ť
There were many people at the Cecil County Councilâ€™s 2/18/14 worksession who wished someone would come and take Councilor Diana Broomell (R-4) away when she had a meltdown, over what should have been a routine review of the minutes of a previous meeting, but instead turned into a tantrum in which Broomell told another council member to â€śShut up.â€ť
(Due to a badly sprained ankle from a fall in the ice and snow, we were not in the room at the time but listened to the drama on audiotapes of the meeting. The sounds of shocked gasps in the room were clearly audible on the tapes as Broomell ranted, interrupted other councilors who had the floor and generally disrupted the proceedings.)
It took the County Council much of its first year of existence to draft and ratify a handbook of policies and procedures for the panelâ€™s operations, largely due to objections and demands raised by Broomell. The handbook, based on Roberts Rules of Order, specifies escalating steps to enforce decorum at meetings up to and including removal of a misbehaving councilor from the meeting room.
But the policies manual lacks one sanction that might have been most useful on Tuesday: the power for the Council president to order Broomellâ€™s mouth washed out with soap. That was the remedy in the olden days for a parent to deal with a back-talking or foul-mouthed child. Parenting may be a lot more permissive these days, but Broomellâ€™s performance made some nostalgic for the old ways of imposing discipline.
Broomellâ€™s conduct has been escalating for months, as Cecil Times reported recently here: http://ceciltimes.com/2014/02/five-shades-of-grey-broomells-bondage-of-cecil-county-council-election-year-rants-on-horses-ethics-etc/ ] Her erratic behavior has been reserved primarily for other members of the County Council, County Executive Tari Moore, the media and volunteer members of county advisory panels with whom she disagrees. But most troubling is that her attack mode is increasingly on display in discussions with state officials.
Cecil County has enough image problems around the state and has too long been the butt of â€śCeciltuckyâ€ť jokes that prevent the county from being taken seriously and deserving of respect in policy decisions. The last thing the county needs is an elected official who goes off the deep end when the county is trying to win support for initiativesâ€”from programs to combat drug abuse to aid for education or economic development.
Over the past two years, in conversations with Broomell, we have told her that the problem is not necessarily with WHAT she wants to do, but the WAY in which she goes about pushing her agenda. Perpetual personal attacksâ€”a tactic she clearly learned from her former employer, Del. Michael Smigielâ€”may yield some short-term gains in a political election campaign but accomplish little in the actual job of governing and achieving substantive goals.
County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) tried to tell Broomell much the same thing at the end of the Tuesday evening Council meeting, after she veered off the issue at hand at several points in the session with personal attacks on Hodge, Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2), state health officials and volunteers serving on the countyâ€™s advisory Drug and Alcohol Council. â€śBeing disruptiveâ€ť and â€śbadmouthing them, calling them liars, is not the way to do business,â€ť he said.
During the morning worksession, Hodge hit his gavel and ruled Broomell out of order at several points, asked her to be â€ścivil and respectfulâ€ť and when she persisted in interrupting others, he finally asked her, â€śWould you like to leave the building?â€ť
Broomellâ€™s behavior cut short a presentation by county executive Moore and her drug policy adviser from the county health department, Ken Collins, on a recent letter from the governorâ€™s office granting a request for state funds to pay half the cost of a designated drug analyst in the state crime lab to handle only Cecil County cases — so that prosecutors can overcome a backlog of drug test results that had led to dismissal of some criminal cases in court. That was a significant, and unusual, step for the state to take, even though several other requests for aid were denied.
But the discussion was stoppedâ€”and other Councilors denied the chance to ask their own questionsâ€”when Broomell interrupted the speakers several times to expound on her view that outpatient treatment of addicts with methadone â€śdoesnâ€™t workâ€ť and crowed that she has â€ścalled outâ€ť the local advisory panel and state health officials for what Broomell believes is mishandling of the issue.
â€śWe need to censure one of our members,â€ť Hodge declared. Moore, no doubt grateful she was no longer a member of the countyâ€™s legislative body, said, â€śI think itâ€™s best that we leaveâ€ť as she and Collins got up to depart the room.
The bizarre tone of the session was set at the outset during a review of the minutes of the previous worksession meeting, as Broomell launched into a lengthy re-hash of her objections to a letter expressing broad interest in a proposed state marketing effort to promote equine tourism, including at Fair Hill. Bowlsbey raised a â€śpoint of orderâ€ť but before she could elaborate on the point, Broomell shouted, â€śShut up.â€ť
Clearly shocked, Bowlsbey declared, â€śExcuse me?â€ť She then read from the councilâ€™s policy manual that specifies councilors must not â€śspeak disrespectfullyâ€ť to or about one another. â€śNobody, nobody is allowed to tell me to shut up,â€ť Bowlsbey said firmly.
Broomell defended what she briefly admitted was an â€śover the topâ€ť outburst by saying she was â€śfrustratedâ€ť and then turned around and asserted that the decorum â€śrules are being used against meâ€ť and declared that â€śitâ€™s disgusting how the county is being sold out.â€ť
By the meeting minutes?
Itâ€™s all part of a â€śscheme,â€ť Broomell declared, to â€śsystematically shut down the democracy.â€ť
She still hadnâ€™t calmed down by evening, when she was ostensibly discussing the horse park issue, and suddenly asserted that â€śMr. Hodge sells out this county regularly for your own profit.â€ť (Will she next claim that Hodgeâ€™s two pet zebras are in on a conspiracy to turn Fair Hill into a wild game preserve?)
Instead of a gavel, Hodge might want to bring a very large butterfly net to the next Council worksession. And perhaps alert the local hospital to prepare its special room with the padded wallsâ€¦