Councilor Jackie Gregory, Facing Ethics Order, Attacks Fellow Lawmakers; Council Attorney Paid by Taxpayers Aids her Cause

February 26, 2020

A CECIL TIMES Special Report


Cecil County Council member Jackie Gregory (R-5), faced with an ethics complaint and a directive from the county’s Ethics Commission to stop working as a substitute teacher in county schools while holding an elected Council seat, is pressing subpoenas against three fellow Councilors and County Executive Alan McCarthy, according to multiple sources. She wants them to testify at a hearing in early March before the ethics panel which is convening to review her own situation, according to subpoenas reviewed by Cecil Times.

Gregory is seeking re-election in the April, 2020 Republican primary, running against Don Harmer, the longtime chair of the county’s Parks and Recreation board, a member of the county Planning Commission, and a youth sports coach. Gregory has frequently opposed funds to support parks and recreation programs and school sports fields.

County Council President Bob Meffley (R-1), Councilor George Patchell (R-4) and Councilor Al Miller (R-3) were served with the subpoenas on Tuesday by Wendy Culberson, a private attorney now retained by Gregory. She also served a subpoena on McCarthy. The subpoenas were signed by the chairman of the Ethics Commission, Robert Boonstoppel, who also wrote that the subpoenas had been requested by Gregory.

A CECIL TIMES Special Report last year revealed Gregory’s work and payments as a substitute teacher, despite clear prohibitions in the county Charter and ethics code against such outside work for a county “department” receiving funds which are voted upon by the Council. [SEE CECIL TIMES first Special Report here:]

Subsequently, a citizen filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission, sources said. The ethics panel convened a closed session to review the matter on 1/29/2020 and also in a subsequent 2/5/2020 closed session. According to the subpoenas, Gregory was issued a “letter” on 2/5/2020 by the ethics panel.

Sources said the letter directed her to stop teaching in CCPS or resign from her Council seat. Under ethics rules, she is entitled to a hearing before the panel to contest the findings. And it is at that hearing that she wants fellow lawmakers to appear, under a “command” to bring with them any “documents in your possession related to allegations that Ms. Gregory is in violation of the Cecil County code.”

CCPS records, previously reported by Cecil Times, document payments she received for working as a substitute teacher while simultaneously employed as a county Councilor. The County Charter and ethics code are formal, public legal documents. So the subpoenas against fellow lawmakers, who readily say they do not have any personal documents about her situation, appear to be a fig leaf for turning her own hearing on ethics charges into personal attacks on the other elected officials.

That gambit is, interestingly, aided by John Downs, the County Council’s private, contracted attorney, who was also issued a subpoena to appear at the ethics session. And this is where it really gets interesting, and puts taxpayers on the hook for lots of legal fees.

Because Gregory is demanding Downs to appear at her hearing as a witness, taxpayers will likely end up paying his $120 per hour fee as a “witness” while the Council is now forced to hire yet another lawyer to represent the Council members who are commanded to appear at her hearing.

But Downs has also been a taxpayer-paid legal consultant aiding Gregory’s cause by dredging up claims against other lawmakers, according to sources. And some of Downs’ work was commissioned by unknown parties, even though mandated Council Policy and Procedures rules were not obeyed in multiple assignments for Downs, including private one on one meetings with Gregory that were not authorized through proper, policy-mandated procedures.

[SEE second CECIL TIMES Special Report on Gregory’s ethics issues and Downs’ invoices and procedures that failed to comply with Council rules here, with legal footnotes: ]

Gregory has also sought, and received, taxpayer reimbursements for tickets for attendance at social events, banquets and dinners, despite county Charter and ethics rules prohibiting such taxpayer expense payments.

According to sources, Downs recently produced a “report” claiming that the three subpoenaed Councilors and McCarthy had violated the county ethics code. But when Cecil Times asked him, under a formal state Public Information Act request for data on who authorized his legal work on Gregory’s situation and whether there had been, as required under Council rules, a written report on his findings, Downs stated on 12/18/2019 there had been no report and no written authorization.

However, sources told Cecil Times this week that Downs is now claiming that all but one Council member had violated ethics rules and he sought to diminish Gregory’s clear non-compliance with the Charter and ethics rules. So issuing a subpoena to Downs is a not so subtle move to try to turn Gregory’s ethics violation hearing into assertions against fellow lawmakers.

The only Council member who was not cited for potential conflicts by Downs is Councilor Bill Coutz (R-2). On his most recent financial disclosure form to the county, Coutz listed no outside employment other than his part-time, $25,000 a year Council job.

But Coutz and Downs also have longstanding ties. According to federal court records, Downs was paid as his lawyer in Coutz’ personal bankruptcy case several years ago, leaving more than 35 creditors out of luck to recoup “business” related debts owed by Coutz. Coutz, who has served less than two years on the Council, is now running in the 2020 Republican primary for County Executive, seeking to manage a multi-million-dollar government budget.

Coutz and Gregory have been political allies on the County Council and have attacked McCarthy repeatedly. They have also sought, privately and in taxpayer-paid legal consultations with Downs, sources said, to claim McCarthy’s ownership of real estate violates ethics rules, despite the fact that passive income from property ownership is not outlawed, while outside salaried “employment,” such as Gregory’s, by county government entities, or companies doing business with the county, is clearly banned.

Even their frequent ally, Council President Bob Meffley (R-1) did not escape the scorched earth tactics of Gregory. In an interview with Cecil Times, Meffley was clearly hurt that Gregory, whom he has often referred to as his “little sister,” had seemingly turned against him in her own ethics quandary.

Meffley owned a successful plumbing and heating business in Chesapeake City, H&B Plumbing, that in the past had contracts for emergency services to county government buildings. But the business is now operated by his son and son-in-law and no longer has any contracts for “emergency” repair services to county buildings, he said. But he is now under subpoena by Gregory at the ethics panel and Downs’ report claims he, too, is somehow unethical. Perhaps it is because he drives a large SUV with the H&B Plumbing logo on the side, although he has owned and driven the vehicle for many years?

Ironically, Meffley has been supportive of Gregory and for months has said he would support changes in the county Charter and ethics code to allow a Council member to serve as a substitute teacher in county schools. He told Cecil Times on Wednesday that he was still willing to support such a proposal. But he acknowledged there were many procedural hurdles—such as getting full Council support for a ballot issue referendum in the November general election and then letting county voters decide whether to approve such a change. “We’ll see,” he said.

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One Response to Councilor Jackie Gregory, Facing Ethics Order, Attacks Fellow Lawmakers; Council Attorney Paid by Taxpayers Aids her Cause

  1. Brian Meehan on February 27, 2020 at 8:31 am

    This article is nothing but a smear tactic. Councilwoman Gregory cannot be bought by the “Good Ole Boy Club of Cecil County” so since she won’t play dirty politics she must be destroyed. Councilwoman Gregory is (sadly) not our councilperson as we fall in District 1. When the fiasco of Southfields was introduced the residents of the county directly affected by this disaster coming our way contacted our Councilman via email. I have yet to have one neighbor confirm they have received a reply to the multitude of emails sent to him. Councilwoman Gregory and Councilman Coutz saw that we were not getting any guidance or acknowledgment from our Councilman. They set up a meeting between the developer and the residents. This was a meeting so we could voice our concerns to the developer. Councilwoman Gregory was attacked for that , why? Councilwoman Gregory has her own district but she cares about the whole county and will always do what is best for it , not like some others that only do things that will line their pockets

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