Cecil County Election: Sheriff Rivals by the Numbers; Register of Wills Foes on Experience, Christianity

October 9, 2014

There were budget questions and history lessons Wednesday evening as the rivals for Cecil County Sheriff and candidates for Register of Wills faced-off in a question-and-answer session at Cecil College, less than a month before the November general election.

The candidates’ forum, sponsored by the Cecil County Chamber of Commerce, provided
William (Danny) Blackburn, the Democratic nominee for Sheriff, and Scott Adams, the Republican nominee, with the same questions and a limited time for responses. But Blackburn stumbled on questions about the agency’s budget. Both candidates are seeking to fill the spot of current Sheriff Barry Janney, who is retiring.

Incumbent Register of Wills Allyn (Lyn) Price Nickle, a Democrat, and challenger Michael W. “Good Mike” Dawson, a Republican, were questioned about their experience and the role of the Register’s office. Dawson interjected his Christian faith as one of his qualifications for office.

Carl Roberts, the former county schools superintendent, acted as moderator and posed the questions. The session was not a debate format, and candidates were not given an opportunity to respond to or direct questions to each other.

Asked about the Sheriff’s department’s operating budget and priorities for spending, Blackburn said, “That’s a difficult question for me; I haven’t been around there for 16 years.” Blackburn served 25 years in the county Sheriff’s department, achieving the rank of chief deputy or the second-ranking official, before retiring in the late 1990s.

Blackburn then ventured a guess: “I have no idea…maybe 15 million?”

Adams, a 22-year veteran of the county Sheriff’s department who currently supervises the agency’s program for placing deputies in the public schools, responded quickly: “$20 million operating budget” and broke down the allocations for law enforcement, the county detention center, and community corrections programs—all of which fall under the Sheriff’s department’s jurisdiction and administration.

On the county’s serious drug abuse problems, Adams said his strategy would be to focus on “supply”—going after drug dealers—and “demand”– partnering with schools and community groups on prevention programs to keep young people away from drugs. He emphasized renewed street-level crime unit deployments in drug-prone areas, expansion of the new K-9 unit to three dogs with drug-detection training; and co-ordination with federal and state authorities and their resources under the county’s new designation as a ‘high impact drug trafficking area.’

Blackburn said he agreed with much of what Adams said, but added he would work with prosecutors and judges to try to make sure drug criminals got maximum sentences.

Asked how each candidate would deal with the “harsh feelings” within the department stemming from this year’s election among supporters of rival candidates, Blackburn said, “there’s fighting now” but if he won in November, he would tell everyone to lay aside their differences and “if not, someone has to leave or be transferred.”

Adams said that in the past there has always been “a difficult process” to heal the political rivalries after an election. But he said he believed that most people had “moved on” from the bitter GOP primary contest now. And he said he would advise staff to do their job in a professional manner, “and if you’re doing your job, you’re going to be fine” under his administration.

Blackburn has largely self-financed his campaign, with a total of $8,000 in loans to his campaign plus $4,000 in contributions from a family member, according to state elections board filings. Going into the final days of the campaign, his warchest still had a balance of $3,049 as of the most recent finance report filed in late August. He has a fundraiser scheduled for this weekend.

Adams ran a well-financed GOP primary campaign, in which he soundly defeated Chris Sutton and a slew of other candidates in the crowded field. For the general election—with billboards, road and yard signs already printed and largely in place from the primary—Adams’ most recent campaign finance report in August showed just $117 in the bank, after spending another $7,359 on new printing and other campaign expenses.

Meanwhile, the Register of Wills contest highlighted pragmatic—and philosophical—differences in approaches to the job that supervises handling of wills and estates of deceased persons and acts as an adviser to the county’s Orphan’s Court in probate matters.

Nickle, who survived a close re-election contest four years ago and was the only successful local-office Democrat, has 16 years experience as the Register of Wills and for eight previous years was the deputy Register.

Her opponent, Dawson, is a field technician for the landlines division of Verizon. He ran unsuccessfully for state Delegate four years ago on the ticket of the Constitution Party.

Asked during the forum to outline their qualifications, Nickel cited advanced training in conflict resolution, estate administration and probate matters, as well as her years of on the job experience.

Dawson responded, “I am a Christian believer” and “everything I say” follows that belief. (His printed campaign materials, distributed at the forum, state as among his “leadership experience and qualifications” for the post: “A Christian—By grace through faith; it is the gift of God.”)

Asked about whether the Register should be an elected post, as it is now, or an appointment from the state, both candidates recounted the history of the post under the state Constitution and state law.

Dawson said the position dates to 1692 and said he favored retention of the job as an elected one, especially since one of the office’s duties is to “collect taxes” on some estates. Nickle said it would take a Constitutional amendment to change the status of the local Registers of Wills in each county of the state and the General Assembly had declined for centuries to change it. So, she said, she endorsed continuation of that status and noted that the Register’s office should be operated with “no politics,” just abiding by the laws of Maryland and offering “compassion” to bereaved families.

Both candidates said they would undertake outreach to the community to educate people about wills and estate matters. Dawson said his campaign was “not about what the office is but what it could be” and added, “I’m a leader, I’m a visionary.”

Nickle outlined her past and continued outreach efforts, including workshops at the county’s Senior Expo, speaking to community groups, and an effort to reach out at local libraries to educate residents about the need to have wills and plan their estates. “But it’s hard to get people to think about death,” she observed.

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2 Responses to Cecil County Election: Sheriff Rivals by the Numbers; Register of Wills Foes on Experience, Christianity

  1. Rebecca Demmler on October 9, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Dr. Roberts was the perfect moderator for last night’s candidate forum. Although I have in mind the candidates I plan to vote for, the answers were somewhat of an eye-opener for me. The evening was most enlightening.

    I’m impressed by Mrs. Schwerzler’s prompt and very thorough and informative coverage of those vying for Register of Wills and Sheriff. I look forward to the reporting of those running for county council.

  2. David P. Neff on October 9, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    I feel this article was a bit biased against Mike Dawson. He only mentioned his Christian faith once in the forun (as did Ms. Price). You completely leave out Mike’s 5-point plan which he outlined in the forum. Why?

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