Cecil County Council Candidates Debate at Chamber Forum; C4L Faction Takes Mainstream Postures

May 17, 2018

Republican candidates for the Cecil County Council faced off this week in a polite question-and-answer session sponsored by the county’s Chamber of Commerce, with three challengers aligned with the Campaign for Liberty ultra-conservative group taking more mainstream positions than their social media presence.

The event, held at Cecil College on 5/14/2018, also included a panel of GOP candidates for the three House of Delegates seats in District 36, with two challengers trying to unseat incumbents. (Cecil Times will be filing an in-depth report on the District 36 state race in the future and will include candidates’ comments therein.) The program only focused on races where there were contested seats in the June 26 party primaries and Carl Roberts, the former county schools’ superintendent who moderated the event, said another panel would be held in the fall to focus on general election races with cross-party competition.

The format of the questions, crafted by a panel of Chamber members and not disclosed in advance to the candidates, posed essentially the same questions to all County Council candidates, but grouped the inquiries by Council district, so the rivals for a particular seat answered the questions at the same time. The questions focused on county spending and tax policies, reduction or elimination of county programs, funds for county schools and Cecil College, business development, and a wildcard question on legalization of marijuana for recreational use.



This seat, largely covering the Elkton area, is currently held by Council President Joyce Bowlsbey, who is retiring. Seeking to replace her are Bill Coutz, of Elkton, a business and sales management executive; and Richard Lewandowski, a construction business owner from Elkton. (Lewandowski has been aligned with the Campaign for Liberty group.)

Coutz said that as a lifelong county resident, he wanted to “give back to my community” and to support “job growth, business growth” in the county. Lewandowski said he had lived in the county for 20 years and his goal for county residents was for them to “work hard, live hard and be safe.”

Asked what the candidates would do to enhance economic development in the county, Coutz said it was important to “promote an environment…that business can thrive in.” Lewandowski said he thought it was important “to listen to the speed bumps, the road bumps” and “not be a roadblock in their way.”

Asked about their priorities in business development in the county, Coutz said that “infrastructure has to be in place” to attract economic development to the county’s growth corridor. He said the county was “unique” in the region in that, unlike crowded nearby Harford County and Delaware, there was land available for business growth, if adequate infrastructure is available to meet their needs.

Lewandowski said it was important to “ask citizens what kind of businesses they want,” rather than “what the government wants.” He said that if residents want “gas stations and restaurants,” that is what should be promoted.

Asked whether the county provided adequate funds to county schools and Cecil College, Coutz said it was necessary to look at schools funding “based on the resources we have.” He also supported funding for county libraries and an enhanced emphasis on “adult education,” but while “we would like to do more,” the county had to balance education aid requests with available funds. Lewandowski said he thought the schools were adequately funded and it was up to the independently elected School Board to “do the right thing.”

On the county’s drug abuse crisis, Coutz said the numbers of opioid overdoses and deaths were “staggering” and supported aid for the multi-agency drug task force on the law enforcement side of the problem. But he also said the county needed to invest in anti-drug education, “early, often and consistently,” along with support for the “recovery” community that helps recovering addicts. Lewandowski said he took “a hard-nosed approach” and thought police agencies should “clean up the streets now” so addicts will go elsewhere.


This seat is currently held by Council Vice President Dan Schneckenburger of Fair Hill, a construction piping consultant and past engineering employee of the Basell scientific firm formerly based in the county. He faces two challengers in the GOP primary: Al Miller, of North East, the longtime president of the Cecil County Fair board, past president of the local Chamber of Commerce, and an agricultural supplies sales executive; and Thomas J. Wilson, of Rising Sun, a business consultant who unsuccessfully opposed the late Wayne Norman four years ago for the District 35 state Senate seat. (Wilson has been aligned with the Campaign for Liberty group.)

Other candidates appearing at the forum wore jacket-and-tie business attire while Wilson wore a plaid short-sleeve shirt and tan pants. Wilson spoke in such a soft voice that audience members strained to try to hear him during the forum.

Schneckenburger identified himself as a “fiscal conservative” and a “big supporter of education,” who had “the most experience” for the job. Wilson said he was “an out of the box thinker” while Miller said he was “excited about the future” of the county and he would follow the 4H program’s motto, “make the best better,” if elected.

Asked how to balance the tax burden on county residents versus requests by agencies for funds, Miller said that public safety was the top priority for county spending. He said that schools were also near the top of his priority list. Schneckenburger said that “economic development is going to drive everything we do,” and he said the county had done “a pretty good job” of improving the business climate, despite “a big tax increase last year.” Wilson said the Council should look for “efficiencies” and ”get government to be lean.”

On the drug crisis, Miller had a personal insight, telling the forum that he lost a son-in-law to drugs. He called for a community-wide effort, including law enforcement, medical and “faith community” participants to address the problem. Wilson advocated a “get tough” law enforcement posture. Schneckenburger said all segments of the community need to “own this problem” and “we want no new users.” He called for enhanced law enforcement and educational efforts.

On education, Wilson said his family had home-schooled his children, so he was not involved in the county school system. “Schools get better with competition,” Wilson said, and “I am an advocate of school choice.” (That phrase is associated with advocates of taxpayer funds being given to private/non-public schools.) Wilson praised a South Carolina man who, after losing a race for the local school board, started his own private school charging parents $5,000 a year in tuition.

Miller said he had a “passion” for the county’s School of Technology and outlined how he planned to recruit private business to supply and support trades-oriented education to grow the local workforce. Schneckenburger said the schools were adequately funded and the new, expanded tech school “was one of the best things we ever did.”


This seat is currently held by Councilor George Patchell, of Perryville, the longtime head of the county’s YMCA and a leader in youth programs. He is opposed by Ed Larsen, of Conowingo, who formerly worked in the pest control business and two years ago started an office cleaning business.

Larsen, a political newcomer aligned with the Campaign for Liberty group, recently drew attention for his political ploy to hijack the full name of George Patchell to create a website that then immediately transferred visitors to his own campaign website, with a request for donations. Within 24 hours of CECIL TIMES exposing Larsen’s gambit, he disabled the link but retained ownership of Patchell’s online name presence. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2018/04/more-names-the-same-political-dirt-larsen-grabs-patchells-name-for-website-to-link-to-his-own-campaign-donation-site/ ]

Larsen is another home schooler, who is skeptical of the county public schools and told the forum that he is “biased” on the subject of public education due to his own homeschool experience. Patchell, who noted his family has lived In Cecil County for over “245 years,” said he was a “very strong” supporter of county public schools, and especially the tech school, and commended the school system for improving graduation rates and curbing school dropouts. “Our students are getting an A1 education,” Patchell said.

Larsen also said that he thought the county-owned animal shelter– located in Chesapeake City on Route 213, the main north-south state road in the county, –should be re-located to another area of the county because, as a Conowingo resident, he thought it was too far away. (Larsen apparently was unaware of the well-publicized nearly four-year fight over animal control and the county’s purchase, at a bargain price, of the former Cecil County SPCA animal shelter and investment in purchase of supplies and renovations of the facility. He offered no alternative locations, nor how to pay for another facility.)

On the county’s drug problem, Larsen said his solution was “tougher laws, tougher judges.” Patchell said, “You’re not going to arrest your way out of this problem” and advocated education prevention efforts as well as legal action against doctors who over-prescribe prescription painkillers that serve as a gateway to abuse of heroin and other lethal drugs.

All candidates were asked their views on legalizing recreational use of marijuana and almost all opposed it, saying it could be a ‘gateway’ drug leading to abuse of opioids and heroin and given the seriousness of the current drug problem there was no reason to expand exposure to drugs. But Lewandowski took a different view, saying he would “support it” and “I don’t think it’s for us to judge what’s healthy.” Wilson said that “on a personal basis,” he would say no, but “from a constitutional standpoint” he thought the government shouldn’t make the decision.

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