Conflict of Interest Questions on Cecil Board of Elections: Mesneak Ousted from County IT Job by McCarthy; Became Active Campaigner for Hornberger

May 21, 2020

Scott Mesneak, the former IT director for Cecil County who was removed from his job by County Executive Alan McCarthy and has been an active campaigner for Danielle Hornberger in her election bid to unseat McCarthy, was recently given a seat on the county Board of Elections that will supervise the June 2 election. His selection for the seat came without a vote of the full county Republican Central Committee and apparently was the decision of the panel’s chairman, Vincent Sammons.

The strong appearance of conflicts of interest, given Mesneak’s dismissal by McCarthy from a top county job, is furthered by his highly visible role in supporting Hornberger, including photos on her campaign social media pages posing with her while putting up signs for her campaign. Some prominently displayed photos show Sammons joining her and Mesneak to put up signs and promote her campaign.

CECIL TIMES has contacted both state and local Board of Elections (BOE) officials over the past two days for comment on the matter and what, if any, actions they are considering to address it. We are still awaiting official comment, but have been assured that the matter is being taken seriously. CECIL TIMES has also messaged Mesneak and asked him for a response on his BOE appointment; a phone number listed for him was no longer in service. This report will be updated, or a new report posted, upon their responses.

The local Board of Elections, which is officially a state agency, consists of five members, with a majority being members of the same political party as the sitting governor—since Gov. Larry Hogan is a Republican, three seats on the local board are members of his party. Although members are selected based on their party affiliation, members are bound by strict rules that require them to be nonpartisan in fulfilling their duties to oversee the election process in a fair and impartial manner.

Impartiality and fairness are of heightened importance in this year’s primary election, since most ballots will be cast by mail, with election boards tasked with reviewing signatures on return envelopes and deciding whether mailed ballots comply with BOE rules. It is the first time that a statewide election has been held primarily by mailed ballots.

Meanwhile, when a Republican member of the local elections board resigned his seat several months ago, that triggered the process to select a replacement. The county Republican Central Committee was tasked with seeking applicants for the position and voting on a nominee whose name would be sent to the governor’s office for formal appointment to the panel.

The local GOP committee’s social media page announced on 2/8/2020 that the panel was “looking for a conservative Republican” to fill the seat and scheduled a “special meeting” of the full committee to vote on a nominee on 2/19/2020. That vote nominated Ed Larsen, a former unsuccessful candidate for County Council, but subsequently he changed his mind and decided to withdraw from the appointment process, according to multiple sources.

And rather than scheduling another “special meeting” or teleconference of the full committee, Sammons decided on his own to nominate Mesneak for the position, several sources said, adding that they were told later that the committee was facing time constraints to send another name to the state quickly.

Mesneak was one of only two longtime county department heads removed from their positions when McCarthy took office after winning the 2016 election for County Executive. Members of the County Council had long clashed with Mesneak over getting improved microphones and initiating video coverage of Council meetings and worksessions, which at that time had audio-only services for the public to be informed about Council meetings.

He came up with cost estimates of $1 million or more as well as high annual maintenance costs for video equipment and services for broadcasts on the Internet via the county’s website. Councilors balked at his cost estimates and proposals, when other counties had accomplished such services for far less money. (Eventually, the Council’s own manager—an admitted non-techie person—came up with a minimal cost video alternative that served the county well for many years on the county’s website. It has since been replaced recently by a more sophisticated system that includes automated transcript texts so as to provide access to persons with disabilities, such as the hearing impaired.)

The recent selection of Mesneak by the local GOP Central Committee for a seat on the Board of Elections ultimately was left up to the governor to ratify the appointment. But since he declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 virus on 3/5/2020, Gov. Larry Hogan has turned over day to day operations of the state government to Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, while Hogan focused on dealing with the pandemic.

Gubernatorial appointments to local Boards are considered routine and depend heavily on the due diligence that is expected of local party Central Committees. However, the Cecil County GOP Central Committee, under Sammons leadership, has deviated from party norms in many areas and has faced criticism both locally and in state GOP circles for being a rogue operation.

Sammons has tossed aside the normal party protocol of the committee and its leaders remaining officially neutral in party primary elections. He has used his “Republican Central Committee chairman” social media page, and numerous other social media pages he has created under multiple faux names, to attack some Republicans and stridently advocate for other candidates in the party primary.

Many local Republicans say they have complained to the state party about Sammons’ handling of local GOP matters and the committee. But the state Republican Party chairman, Dirk Haire, has refused to address the matter. Haire is strongly aligned politically with US Rep. Andy Harris (R-1), who is vociferously supporting and financially backing Mrs. Hornberger’s campaign for Cecil County Executive.

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One Response to Conflict of Interest Questions on Cecil Board of Elections: Mesneak Ousted from County IT Job by McCarthy; Became Active Campaigner for Hornberger

  1. ConcernedCitizen on May 25, 2020 at 8:50 pm

    So, how can we trust that our elections will be above board??

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