Cecil County Exec Moore Won’t Seek Re-election in 2016, Opens Candidate Floodgates; Legacy of First County Exec is Tech School, Landfill Solvency
Cecil County Executive Tari Moore, a Republican, has told County Council members she will not seek re-election next year, thus clearing the way for a potential floodgate of candidates to succeed her. Moore, the county’s first executive under Charter government, compiled a mixed record of accomplishments, with creation of a new school of technology and balancing the books on the previously troubled landfill funds as among her best achievements.
Moore, a former two-year member of the old county Board of Commissioners before her election as the first County Executive under the new Charter form of government that went into operation in 2012, called County Council President Robert Hodge (R-5) Tuesday evening and told him of her decision not to run again, Hodge told Cecil Times. “I guess she lost interest in the job,” Hodge said. He did not press her for details and she did not volunteer her reasons, Hodge noted, but he said she had previously voiced mixed feelings about running again over the past few months and he had tried to encourage her to run again.
“I think she had been doing a good job and I asked her to re-consider,” Hodge said.
County Councilor Alan McCarthy (R-1), who is vice-president of the council, told Cecil Times that Moore phoned him Wednesday morning to advise him of her decision not to run again. “She didn’t give any reasons,” McCarthy said, “and I didn’t press her for any.”
County Councilor Joyce Bowlsbey (R-2) said she had “known for weeks” that Moore was inclined not to seek re-election. “I’m sad she won’t be here,” said Bowlsbey, who replaced Moore on the County Council when Charter government began. Bowlsbey was appointed to serve out the remainder of Moore’s term on the new Council and won election to the Council seat in her own right in the last election.
Moore’s departure could set up a free-for-all in the Republican primary next April, with a candidate filing deadline in mid-February. It had been rumored in local political circles for months that Moore would not run again and that had triggered speculation and political movement among multiple potential candidates to position themselves in case Moore did not seek re-election. But when Moore had not announced her non-candidacy, months after she had assured some local political players that she would do so, it triggered some speculation that she was instigating uncertainty so that many other potential candidates would file for the office and she might swoop in at the last minute before the deadline—thus setting up a re-play of her winning campaign scenario in her past election to win victory in a crowded GOP primary field.
But with Moore’s intentions now clear, that sets up a broad field of potential candidates to succeed her. Key potential candidates include McCarthy, whose First District Council seat is up for election next year; freshman Councilor Dan Schneckenburger (R-3), who could run for County Executive while still holding on to his Council seat if he lost; and freshman state Del. Kevin Hornberger (R-35), with just a few months on the job in Annapolis but strong political and financial support from US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1).
Schneckenburger held a political fundraiser recently, although his council seat is not up for election for over two years. He has also taken a high-profile posture on social media recently, posting pictures and comments from even routine local events.
[UPDATE: Scheckenburger told Cecil Times that he was “mildly surprised” by Moore’s decision not to run again and that if she had, he would have supported her. In the past month or so, he said, she seemed to be “acting very county executive-ish,” by which he meant that she was more engaged with political groups and seemed to be preparing for another run for the office.
But now with an “open seat,” Schneckenburger said he would “look at my options” and would do some “due diligence.” He said his top priority would be to make sure the county would continue job creation and economic development efforts, for which he gave Moore high marks. “There are a lot of good things going on in Cecil County.” ]
Cecilton Mayor Joseph Zang III has also been mentioned as a contender. Zang received a higher countywide profile due to his leadership on coming up with a solution to the water well pollution in Earleville caused by a US Army Corps of Engineers dredge spoil dumpsite at Pearce Creek, with the town working out a deal to provide clean town water via a pipeline to three affected communities located about 7 miles from the town. Zang has also spearheaded economic development and revitalization in Cecilton, with new housing and business development in what had been a down at the heels rural crossroads before he became mayor.
But Zang told Cecil Times on Wednesday that he had decided not to run for County Executive. He said he was “at a place in my life” where he did not think the executive’s post would be the best thing for him and his family. But he said he had not ruled out a potential run for County Council in District 1, especially if the current Councilor, Alan McCarthy, did not seek re-election and ran for county executive.
McCarthy told Cecil Times he had made “no decisions” regarding his political future and options, but added that he was “committed” to remaining involved in county issues and especially in economic development matters. “I’m considering the future of my political career,” he said.
Business owners in the county who initially supported Moore for county executive had become increasingly upset with her policies and leadership, especially this year when her budget raised property taxes, boosted land sale transfer tax fees substantially, and raised various fees. The County Council, especially under Hodge’s leadership, pushed for broader spending cuts and eventually cut Moore’s property tax hikes to retain current tax rates. However, the Council was unable to find other spending cuts to prevent the property transfer tax hike from taking effect.
Business leaders, and a political action committee representing the business community, spoke out against Moore’s budget. And some segments of the business community have been actively seeking an alternative candidate to Moore in 2016, sources told Cecil Times, even before Moore disclosed her intention not to seek re-election.
Cecil Times phoned Moore at her office and on her personal cell phone seeking to talk about her decision and to assess her accomplishments as County Executive. We were told by an aide at her county office that she was “not in the office today” and a message would be left for her. If she responds, we will update this report with her comments. (We are not holding our breath, after we recently received a third-party warning that our reports were considered “negative” about Moore and we should “watch yourself.” )
In reviewing Moore’s administration, her greatest achievements would be the acquisition and opening of a new vocational-technical school at the Basell property in Elkton and finally setting a firm financial footing for operation of the county landfills. But the votech school was a no-brainer that just about everyone in county leadership supported, except the old “Three Amigos” county commissioner group. Once their majority fell in the 2012 elections, a new council majority and Moore as county executive moved forward with the project.
Perhaps the major fiscal responsibility achievement of Moore’s administration was her steps to bring the county landfill “enterprise funds” into balance between costs and revenues from fees by users of the services. The current fiscal year budget finally set those funds on track for fiscal responsibility without demanding funds from all taxpayers who do not use the landfill services to subsidize the costs. [SEE previous CECIIL TIMES article here: http://ceciltimes.com/2015/04/trash-talk-cecil-county-landfill-fees-rise-in-moore-budget-users-of-serevicces-on-path-to-pay-full-costs/ ]
Among her most controversial actions were her property tax rate hikes in the current fiscal year—a move that was blocked by the County Council, which made a lot of tough fiscal decisions that she apparently was unwilling to make in order to continue a freeze on property tax rates. Her two previous budgets drew heavily from “fund balance” reserve funds that had been accumulated over many years by the Commissioners as a hedge against fiscal uncertainties in the future.
Moore has also refused for the past 2 1/2 years to rescind or modify a $2.24 million contract for animal control services with A Buddy for Life, Inc., despite citizen complaints about conditions at the group’s rented kennels in Elkton and McCarthy’s observations—as a licensed veterinarian—that the county-paid shelter operation was “a mess” and animals were sick and housed in improper conditions.