GOP County Council Candidates Tout Economic Development, Job Skills; Schneckenburger Won’t Commit to Serve Full Term

March 19, 2018


It was mostly a meeting of the like-minded when four Republican candidates for the Cecil County Council met for a polite discussion of issues at a forum sponsored by the Republican Club of Cecil County on 3/15/2018 in Elkton. But there was an extra elephant in the room, apart from pictures of the GOP party mascot.

Most of the participants answered the same questions, submitted in writing by members of the audience at the forum held at the County Administration Building, via the moderator of the event, Bob Dubuque, the vice president of the club. Economic development, education, fighting the drug crisis—all for—and nuanced comments on taxes, but agreement that further increases should not be needed because of boosts in the current budget year and rising revenues due to new businesses that have recently been drawn to the county.

But one question was posed directly to incumbent Council member Dan Schneckenburger (R-3), who is seeking re-election to his council seat after he ran unsuccessfully for County Executive in 2016– and is widely expected to try again in 2020. If re-elected to the Council seat this year, would he serve his full four-year term “without the distraction” of running for another office mid-way through his tenure?

“I’m going to be focused on 2018,” Schneckenburger replied. In political rhetoric, that amounts to a non-denial denial.

Schneckenburger lost, in a three-way race for County Executive in the 2016 GOP primary, to Dr. Alan McCarthy, who went on to win the general election. (McCarthy also serves as the current president of the Republican Club of Cecil County.) While serving as the Vice President of the County Council during the past year, Schneckenburger has frequently been critical of McCarthy and his policies.

If Schneckenburger is re-elected to his Council seat this year, and succeeded in running for County Executive two years later, his Council seat could be filled by the choice of the Republican Central Committee, with ratification by the four other members of the Council. The county went through a protracted, politically bruising battle when Tari Moore left her Commissioner/Council seat upon being elected the first County Executive under Charter government. A deadlock between the “Smipkin” political machine that dominated the GOP committee and the Council resulted in Moore eventually asserting her right under the Charter to name her own successor on the Council, with the seat eventually going to Joyce Bowlsbey.

This year, ten candidates have filed for the 9-seat Republican Central Committee, with a potential majority of the panel aligned with dissidents including the small but social media-vocal Campaign for Liberty organization.

There are a lot of “ifs” in such a scenario—starting with the question of whether Schneckenburger will win re-election to his current Council seat. He is facing two opponents in the GOP primary for the Council seat: Al Miller, the longtime president of the county Fair Board and member of a dairy farming family with deep roots in the county; and Thomas Wilson, who ran unsuccessfully against Wayne Norman for the state Senate seat in District 35 four years ago. (Wilson lost overwhelmingly to the popular and much-admired Norman, who died recently.)

Wilson boycotted the recent GOP forum in Elkton, along with two other candidates–Ed Larsen, seeking the GOP nomination in District 4 against incumbent Republican George Patchell; and Richard Lewandowski, seeking the District 2 seat currently held by the retiring Joyce Bowlsbey.

Their boycott notice was issued by Vincent Sammons, who has created a name-almost-the-same rival political club, called “Cecil County Republican Club,” that he established as an online and Facebook group after he lost a race for president of the decades-old Republican Club of Cecil County that sponsored the recent candidate forum. Sammons is also a candidate this year for the Republican Central Committee.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: ]

Since the Sammons-aligned candidates refused to show up to answer questions, the remaining candidates fielded a variety of questions at the forum that were primarily focused on economic development, jobs, education, school safety and tax policy. There was mostly general agreement among the candidates.

Incumbent Council member George Patchell (R-4), who heads the local YMCA and is active in youth sports programs, said the county needed to develop a “diversified economy,” including attracting high tech companies and moving beyond the “distribution center” concentration of most of the recent new businesses coming to the county.

Part of those efforts, Patchell said, is to emphasize technical skills to develop the local workforce , especially through the county’s tech school, which he called “amazing.” And the county needs to continue to invest in bringing the infrastructure to the growth corridor to support business and pro-actively “bet on yourself.” He said the county took a step in the right direction last year when it was decided to go ahead with bringing water and sewage services to the Bainbridge property near Port Deposit, so that the long vacant site will be ready for business development once environmental cleanup issues are resolved with the US Navy, the former owner of the site.

Incumbent Council member Schneckenburger (R-3) agreed on the need to diversify the local economy and improve workforce skills. He said the county should work more closely with the “star campus” being developed by the University of Delaware as a high-tech business and training hub. “We could get some of that growth” seeping across the nearby state line to Cecil County, he said.

Miller repeatedly emphasized the importance of agriculture to the county and its economic future and also pointed out that promotion of business in the “growth corridor” along Route 40 would ease development pressures on the more rural areas of the northern and southern county. He also noted that Cecil County should play up its advantages: open and available land for business development, since Harford County and New Castle County in Delaware had little available land for development. And he noted with a smile the economic value of “the Pennsylvania Navy”—a south-county euphemism for the summer tourists with big boats on trailers—who spend money here before heading north again when the weather turns cold.

Bill Coutz, the vice president of the Fair Hill Races and the County Fair board as well as a business development executive, is running for the District 2 seat now held by the retiring Bowlsbey. He offered an impassioned appeal for action to stem the tide of opioid addiction that is plaguing the county, saying the problem is “far worse and more widespread than you think it is.” He said he has talked with experts in the law enforcement, education, and medical communities and action and co-operative efforts in those areas are needed on a long-term basis. He also said he would strongly support law enforcement and emergency medical service providers, which he said were “stretched to their limits” now.

A day after the forum, leaders of the club announced that members, voting on paper ballots distributed at the forum, had endorsed Patchell, Miller and Coutz for the County Council. That left incumbent Schneckenburger the odd-man-out.

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