Hornberger Secretly Installs O’Rourke on Ethics Panel—Despite County Council’s Rejection of Nomination Four Months Ago; Council Angry at End-Run

June 10, 2021

A CECIL TIMES Special Report

Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger secretly installed a former co-worker on the county Ethics Commission recently, despite the fact the County Council rejected her nomination to the panel in February. There was no notice given to the Council of the action, just a new inclusion of the woman’s name on the county website for the ethics panel and her apparent participation in a recent Zoom meeting.

At the same time, there has been a veil of secrecy surrounding actions by the new ethics panel, with absent audio during the initial 4/20/2021 meeting, no posting on the county website of video from that meeting or a subsequent 6/3/2021 meeting, and failure to post minutes approved a week ago. (The County Council usually posts video of its meetings and approved minutes within 24 hours.) Council members also were not told that one of their favorite nominees to the ethics panel, Joe Graf, a former county teacher, had resigned the same day as the first meeting of the panel. That leaves a new vacancy on the five-member panel; so far Hornberger has not proposed or installed a new name for that slot.

Due to the flawed handling of those meetings, under the oversight and direction of new County Attorney Lawrence Scott, it was not known that the controversial Andrew Goins, associate pastor of Pleasant View Baptist Church– which holds anti-LGBT views and preaches that women should ‘submit’ to the will of their husbands– has become the chairman of the ethics panel. His new title was posted on the county website in the past few days, but due to the missing audio, video and minutes of the initial April meeting, it is not known how he got that title.

And to add insult to injury, Hornberger once again used postings on the county website to disclose the new installation of O’Rourke on the ethics panel—after a blowup with the council several months ago when her administration listed her nominees as actual sitting members of the panel before the council had even considered the nominees.

Several County Council members interviewed by Cecil Times were furious with the new secret moves by Hornberger and said they would demand answers as well as consider possible actions to preserve the Council’s powers on nominations.

“I can’t believe they did that…it’s sneaky,” said Council President Bob Meffley (R-1), who has largely been supportive of Hornberger and her agenda. He said he would demand that Hornberger speak directly to the Council and explain her actions.

“This shows a total lack of respect for the Council,” said Councilor Al Miller (R-3). “It’s getting old,” he added.

“This is not acceptable, in any way shape or form,” said Councilor Bill Coutz (R-2).

Council members also expressed surprise and regret that Joe Graf, a teacher, had resigned the same day as the first meeting of the panel. Graf drew strong support from a majority of Council members.

In response to a message from CECIL TIMES on Thursday, Graf—who was a popular teacher in Cecil County public schools before joining the Kent County school system– said he had resigned from the ethics panel. “I did step down. I submitted my letter on April 20th. I took a promotion/new assignment with my school system that will require much more of my attention and time,” he wrote. He added that he submitted his resignation letter before the late afternoon meeting of the Ethics Commission on that date and did not attend the session.

Meanwhile, O’Rourke is a former co-worker with Hornberger at the North Bay camp in North East. The Council rejected her nomination at a 2/16/2021 meeting because members felt she had not been honest with them at a 2/9/2021 meeting when she portrayed herself as a dedicated Democrat who would be independent-minded. (County law requires that all members of the five-member ethics panel must be registered county voters and the panel may have “no more than three” members of the same political party. Three other Hornberger nominees were Republicans so two seats had to go to Democrats.)

But a CECIL TIMES review of Board of Elections records showed she had only registered as a Democrat days before she was picked by Hornberger for the ethics panel. O’Rourke registered as a Democrat on 1/12/2021—just two days before Hornberger fired the entire five-member sitting ethics panel on 1/14/2021. Hornberger then submitted to the Council her list of replacements, including O’Rourke, late in the afternoon of the following day, on 1/15/2021, and the Council resolution was introduced a few days later, on Tuesday 1/19/2021.

[SEE CECIL TIMES report on Council meeting rejecting O’Rourke’s nomination here: http://ceciltimes.com/2021/02/cecil-county-council-oks-4-hornberger-ethics-panel-picks-rejects-democrat-come-lately-oks-anti-lgbtq-rights-pastor-goins-council-social-media-war-erupts-as-gregory-attacks-coutz/ ]

The Council and Hornberger’s administration had several contentious meetings before that final resolution of the nominations, including a session at which County Administrator Dan Schneckenburger threatened that Hornberger would take unilateral action on her nominees if the Council did not act “within 30 days.” The Council acted within 29 days of the introduction of the nominations to the Council.

[O’Rourke apparently made a surprise appearance at the most recent Ethics Commission meeting last week, as a black box, with the written name “Heather” but no face or further identification, showed up on a Zoom call and participated in the meeting with others who were in person in a room at the county administration building.]

Meanwhile, Scott, the new county attorney who also serves as the legal counsel to the Ethics Commission and presides at the panel’s meetings, has demonstrated lack of knowledge of the state Open Meetings Act. And due to silenced audio of the initial 4/20/2021 ethics meeting, it was not known until a website posting several weeks later that Goins had become chairman of the panel. [SEE CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2021/04/scott-new-cecil-county-attorney-fumbles-first-meeting-of-hornbergers-new-ethics-panel-clueless-on-open-meetings-law-state-ethics-commission-role/

During the recent budget deliberations, Scott also doubled as an explainer/defender of some budget line items. His arguments were less than convincing to the Council, which rejected a $500,000 study of possible re-location of tolling facilities on I-95 despite his claim that he had “texts” of support from state transportation officials for the proposal. He never showed the “texts” to the Council.

The new chairman of the ethics panel, with a term lasting until 8/7/2022, is Andrew Goins, associate pastor of Pleasant View Baptist Church, whose nomination raised questions about how fair he would be on the ethics panel if faced with a case that did not fit in with his personal views. His church’s website has a lengthy statement of its guiding principles, including opposition to “all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.” The website also defines marriage as “the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime.” (Marriage equality for members of the LGBT community is the law of the land, under a landmark Supreme Court ruling as well as Maryland law.)

The church also states that “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband…” Under state law, women have equal rights with men in virtually all circumstances.
Goins also bragged about his church’s political clout at a Council session, saying his “church votes over 1,000 people in our county.”

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