Cecil County Council: Harmer, Parks Supporter and Businessman, Challenges Incumbent Gregory, Frequent Parks Foe, in Dist. 5

October 3, 2019

Donald Harmer, a local liquor store owner and longtime leader of the county’s Parks and Recreation board, has filed to run for Cecil County Council in District 5, challenging incumbent Jackie Gregory, a frequent critic of county spending for parks and recreation programs. Both are candidates in the 2020 Republican primary.

Harmer, chairman of the citizen-led parks board for four years and a member of the panel for nine years, has also been a member of the county’s Planning Commission for the past several years. He is the managing partner in ownership of Weaver’s Liquors in Elkton and for many years has been active in various civic and youth groups.

He has also been chairman, for the past four years, of the Maryland Strategic Framework for Cecil County, a panel that addresses and seeks solutions to drug and alcohol dependency issues as part of the county’s “Drug-Free Cecil” program. Harmer came to the parks panel after years of involvement in youth sports activities, including two decades as a coach with local soccer programs, and 15 years as assistant athletic director for the Tome School.

He and his wife, Annette—a registered nurse with Christiana Care and a graduate of the Cecil College nursing program—have three adult children and live in Elkton. Harmer,61, is a graduate of the University of Maryland with a degree in finance.

Asked why he is running for the Council, Harmer said, “I care about the county and I care about the county’s future.” Among the top issues he sees in the county are economic growth, education, and support for first responders.

And he sees a connection, especially between education and economic development, to assure a future for young people to choose to remain in the county as adults. “For too long”, he said, the county educated children but when they became adults “they had to leave” to find work elsewhere due to a lack of good jobs here.

“I want them to have a choice, to make the county a place where young people want to live and to give them a choice for the future.” The county needs to develop “a trained workforce” and create job opportunities for them. And he believes support for parks and recreation programs are “part of the equation” to support a positive quality of life in the county.

On fiscal policy, Harmer said he strongly supports “balanced budgets” and making sure the county has adequate reserve funds to meet any emergencies or unexpected fiscal problems. As for candidates who pledge to never consider any tax or fee increases, Harmer said that no one has a crystal ball to predict what crisis might occur. But he “does not foresee any reason” for such steps in the immediate future.

As for his leadership style, Harmer said, “I’m not going to fight in public” with others and to solve problems, “often it’s more about listening” to all sides of an issue to come up with a solution.

Harmer had barely filed his candidacy papers before he was attacked by the small local ultra-conservative group, Cecil County Campaign for Liberty (C4L), which never lets reality get in the way of a photo-shopped meme or questionable claim. C4L claimed on social media that Harmer and the business in which he is a partner “donated to liberal democrats,” an assertion not borne out by state Board of Elections campaign finance records.:

Harmer made one personal donation of $50 in 2014 to John Ulrich, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for County Council “I grew up with John,” Harmer said of his late friend. Ulrich, a well known local real estate appraiser and businessman who was also active in Democratic politics, was much admired for his charity work and the courage with which he battled the disease that ultimately claimed his life.

Harmer also made two donations, totaling $196, in 2016 to the Cecil Business Leaders Political Action Committee (PAC), which has endorsed only Republican candidates for various county elected offices. Weavers’ Liquors made several $25 donations, dating back to 2005, to a statewide liquor industry PAC—the Maryland Licensed Beverage Association—that focuses on state legislation and issues affecting the industry. Weavers’ also donated $100 to the Sheriff’s campaign of Scott Adams, a Republican, and a $100 “in-kind” merchandise donation to an Adams fundraiser event.

On the county’s Planning Commission, Harmer recently voted against allowing a 180-foot cell phone tower in Chesapeake City, siding with local residents who feared the tower would mar the “scenic byway” along the Route 213 corridor through the historic town. But the full commission decided, by a 4-2 vote, to allow the tower project to proceed.

Harmer has been an advocate for building the Calvert Regional Park and supported the development of artificial turf fields at local high schools. County Executive Alan McCarthy created a program to upgrade all high school sports fields by shifting the costs of improvements to the Parks and Recreation budget instead of Cecil County Public Schools (CCPS) budgets. While in the CCPS fiscal pocket, the sports fields were often an afterthought and non-school sports teams were barred from using the fields for youth league practices or games.

So far, Perryville and North East High Schools have received new turf fields to replace old grass fields that local parents and coaches had complained for years were rutted and often unplayable

The “memo of understanding” between the schools and the county government to turn over construction and maintenance of the high school fields “is one of the best things we’ve ever done,” Harmer said. The Parks and Recreation board strongly supported the shift, because it created an opportunity to improve the fields for school sports programs while also opening them up to community sports teams at nights and on weekends when school teams were not using the facilities.

Youth sports and recreation programs are a “source of community pride” and an important part of encouraging “healthy lifestyles” and positive activities for young people, Harmer said.

The Calvert regional park, the first such facility in the county, has drawn criticism from many quarters over its costs—over $7 million—and traffic stemming from largely out-of-county sports teams who rent fields for tournaments. The park was originally touted as a potential economic development boost to bring “sports tourists” to the area. Revenues from field rentals so far have been modest while local leagues say the fees are too high for their local events.

Harmer’s opponent, Jackie Gregory, has been a frequent critic of spending for county parks and recreation programs. She unsuccessfully sought to delay improvements of the Bohemia Manor playing fields with an artificial turf surface in the current budget for Fiscal 2020 and advocated an across-the-board cut in operating funds for parks and recreation programs.

(CECIL TIMES will be posting a separate article about Gregory’s record in office and her re-election campaign.)

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