Republican Cecil Co Exec Candidates Spar on Issues; MacDonald, Newly Unemployed, Would Abolish Economic Development Efforts
The four Republican candidates for Cecil County Executive sparred on multiple issues in a political forum Wednesday night as two current County Council members emphasized the need for enhanced economic development, a frequent critic of county government urged unspecified spending cuts, and a political newcomer who has lost his job over his campaign finance activities sought to kill county economic development programs.
In a forum sponsored by the Cecil County Republican Club in Chesapeake City, the four GOP candidates answered questions on various issues—including spending, taxes, jobs and animal control–and outlined their credentials and experience. It was a dark and stormy night as monsoon rains and high winds pummeled the county, and a small crowd of about 40 people attended the event. At the end of the forum, Republican Club members voted on secret ballots to endorse Dr. Alan McCarthy, the current Vice President of the County Council who has served nearly four years on the panel and is a resident of Chesapeake City, for the GOP nomination for County Executive.
The other current County Council member in the race, Dan Schneckenburger (R-5), a Fair Hill resident who has served for nearly two years on the panel, voiced criticisms for the first time of current county executive Tari Moore (R) who is not running for re-election. Schneckenburger has usually been a Moore defender but in the forum he criticized her for relying on raids of the “fund balance” reserve funds, accumulated by the old Board of Commissioners to protect against economic adversity, in order to balance her budgets. He also voiced his first objections that the Moore administration had not placed sufficient emphasis, and achieved results, from economic development initiatives.
Economic development and job creation concerns dominated the discussions and many an eyebrow was raised when political newcomer Greg Mac Donald, who has identified himself as a “liberty” candidate, declared that he would abolish the county’s Department of Economic Development as “a waste of taxpayer resources” and said the county government should not be involved in business development.
Meanwhile, Mac Donald is now unemployed after his employer of the last 18 years, W.L. Gore Associates, “separated” him from employment on Monday. In response to questions from Cecil Times after the GOP forum, Mac Donald acknowledged “I was separated” from his job as a member of the company’s “recycling team” and that he had accepted a political campaign contribution from a recycling company whose work he supervised while at Gore.
State Board of Elections records show that Mac Donald’s campaign for county executive was primarily financed by Elkton Recycling, which donated $2,000 on 12/11/15. Mac Donald also loaned his campaign $300 and received a few small donations from family and friends. His campaign account listed a total $2,389 bank account balance in his January, 2016 filing with the state and the Elkton Recycling contribution accounted for most of that amount.
Most major employers have company ethics and conflict of interest policies that prohibit a worker from taking anything of value from a contractor doing business with the company and whose work is supervised by the company employee.
Another “outsider” candidate is Joe Carabetta, a recently retired 34-year employee of the US Department of Defense as a testing supervisor at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County. Carabetta said he was qualified for the top county post because, “I am one of the few people who comes out to meetings to speak my piece.” He noted he was an Eagle Scout and received an agricultural engineering degree from Penn State and said, “I will deliver on what I promise or I will resign.”
Schneckenburger scoffed at Carabetta’s qualifications, saying that the mindset of “a federal bureaucrat” was not the “vision” to attract business development to the county. Carabetta disputed that characterization, saying that his government job required him to “bring in customers” to his work as an employee of the Department of Defense.
The candidates were asked to describe their own qualifications for office and their plans for the county executive’s agenda.
McCarthy described himself as “a common sense conservative” who “favored fewer taxes” and stepped up efforts for “job creation.” He noted his experience as a licensed veterinarian who created and sold five veterinary medical practices, a former member of the Chesapeake City town council and a current treasurer of the Cecil College Foundation, raising and investing funds to provide college scholarships to county students. “I am self-made, self- employed and I know how to handle money,” McCarthy said. “Cecil County’s brightest days are ahead of us,” McCarthy said.
Schneckenburger said that he would “emphasize economic development from the top down” and would look at “reorganizing the county government” for better “customer service” and efficiency. And in his first week in office he would tell county employees that economic development was the top priority. “If you’re a taxpayer you’re going to feel awfully good that I got elected because we’re going to take the pressure off you,” he added.
McCarthy said that from his first day as county executive he would send the message that “Cecil County is open for business” and would streamline processes so applicants for county permits to start a business could complete the application process within just one day.
Asked about their “vision” for the county, Carabetta said he supported protection of farmland preservation areas in the county and expansion of business in the growth corridor. He said that “the taxpayer has been getting hit on the chin” in the last four years and said that in his administration, “We’re going to be in lockstep with Governor Hogan. “ He also said that due to his years as a Republican Party activist, “I have doors I can open in Annapolis.”
In fact, the Hogan administration has done little if anything to benefit Cecil County’s economy or state aid, as frequently reported on Cecil Times. As recently as the past few days, the Hogan administration issued data showing Cecil County was getting among the lowest allocations of state capital improvement funds in the governor’s new Fiscal 2017 budget proposals, and at least half or more lower than the level of state investment in other smaller and primarily rural counties.
Some candidates were asked about rumored massive increases in health insurance premiums for county employees being considered by Moore for her upcoming budget proposal, said to be as much as 300 percent. Schneckenburger blamed Obamacare as causing rising costs. (But the county is primarily self-insured and has kept the same high expenses ‘stop loss’ private insurance level that it had well before the federal insurance mandates became law.) Schneckenburger said that county employees could shift to a lower benefit “option” level of coverage and they might end up paying less than current premiums that provide a higher level of care.
But the county can’t ask taxpayers to cover higher health insurance costs for county workers, Schneckenburger said. “The issue is should we raise people’s taxes…that’s not going to fly,” he said. “We’re not going to be able to fix this on the backs of current taxpayers,” Schneckenburger said.
Responding to a question on what candidates would do to control spending and prevent tax increases, McCarthy said he would do “an audit of county government” to “see where the fluff is, where the waste is.” He said “it could be that we have too many departments” in county government.
The more than three-year controversy over county animal control services also came up for questioning. Carabetta said that to him, as a cat lover with several pets– including a handicapped cat, Noah, who often attends public meetings nestled in a baby sling carried by his wife—“The animals come first.”
Animal control is “a very emotional issue,” Carabetta said, and “the animals have to come first.”
While Carabetta has advocated broad cuts in county spending, he did not question the $2.24 million three year contract the county had with A Buddy for Life, Inc., that expired 12/31/15. Moore unilaterally extended that contract for yet another six months at an extra cost of over $300,000. The County Council recently rejected an extra $24,000 Moore requested for the Buddies on top of that figure.
In fact, Carabetta has courted political support from the Buddies and their chief advocate, Mindy Carletti, a Perryville veterinarian who has benefitted from the group’s county contract. In recent social media postings, Carletti has endorsed Carabetta’s candidacy for county executive and pledged to provide campaign flyers and voter registration documents at her veterinary office to promote Carabetta’s candidacy.
McCarthy, a licensed veterinarian who made an unannounced inspection of the Buddies’ rented shelter in Elkton and pronounced it a “mess,” with unsanitary conditions and health problems evident among the animals, told the GOP forum he believed the Cecil County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Inc. had done a good job during their decades long contracts with the county to care for stray animals and was qualified to resume care for stray animals.
The old “Three Amigos” political bloc of the County Commissioners installed the inexperienced Buddies as the animal control contractor to replace the CCSPCA in late 2012. Moore could have cancelled that contract at any time in the past three years, but refused to do so even as controversy swirled in public meetings and reports of problems in the operations and treatment of animals, volunteers and Girl Scouts who questioned conditions at the Buddies’ shelter during a public government meeting, after which African-American girls were insulted with racial epithets.