New Cecil County Council Attorney, Chip MacLeod, Brings Deep Experience—and Stiff Spine—to County Legal Matters

July 15, 2021


The Cecil County Council has hired Charles “Chip” MacLeod– a Chestertown lawyer with decades of experience in local government and the founder of the Clean Chesapeake Coalition that has fought for sediment cleanup at the Conowingo Dam– as the new County Council attorney. And in his first appearance at the 7/13/2021 Council worksession, MacLeod ran verbal and legal rings around the Hornberger administration’s lawyer, Lawrence Scott, an Annapolis political consultant with limited legal experience.

MacLeod replaces John Downs, an Elkton lawyer, who submitted a letter of resignation in mid-June. It was an open secret that several members of the Council were unhappy with what was seen as Downs’ lukewarm representation of the Council since the onset of Danielle Hornberger’s administration as County Executive seven months ago. Hornberger’s administration has taken multiple steps that undercut the authority of the Council, especially her unilateral and secret appointment of an Ethics Commission member after the Council had refused to confirm the appointee.

[SEE CECIL TIMES Special Report here: ]

MacLeod brings broad local government and legal experience to the Council position. He was associate director of the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) in Annapolis and served for seven years as the County Administrator of Kent County. After receiving his law degree from the University of Maryland, he became a partner in the Funk and Bolton law firm, which is based in Baltimore, for 18 years. He opened his own law firm, MacLeod Law Group, in 2017. His law firm, as well as MacLeod himself, will represent the County Council.

MacLeod is no stranger to Cecil County. He has appeared before the County Council many times representing the Clean Chesapeake Coalition, which he created more than eight years ago to address heavy costs to be borne by counties, especially on the Shore, as part of a state Bay cleanup program, known as the Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP) The Coalition’s agenda expanded to include the state and federal re-licensing of the Conowingo Dam and state and county efforts to require dredging of sediments behind the dam that routinely overflow and pollute the Susquehanna river and the Bay. Cecil County was one of the original county members and remains part of the Coalition.

MacLeod said that despite federal re-licensing of the dam, there are still issues pending with the state’s directives on water quality problems and the need to remove polluting sediments backed up behind the dam.

In an interview with Cecil Times before his appearance in Elkton, MacLeod said he would bring a spirit of collaboration to his position and looked forward to working positively with both the Council and the county administration. “I have found in the past that as counties make the transition from commissioner government to Charter, there may be growing pains that need to be worked out as all sides become accustomed to their roles,” he said,

His work on the Coalition brought him into frequent contact with state government agencies and lawmakers. And state court records show he has represented clients, mostly local and county governments, in court in at least 73 cases.

(In contrast, Lawrence Scott, the new county attorney, was hired by Hornberger even though he had not represented any clients in civil or criminal cases in state courts nor had he entered a written appearance on behalf of a client, according to the state courts database. He has been an Annapolis political consultant with ties to state GOP chairman Dirk Haire, who actively supported Hornberger.)

The contrasts between the two lawyers were evident in the Tuesday worksession, with MacLeod presenting a low key, legal discussion of the issues while Scott gruffly lectured the Council on his ideas about “good government.”

At the worksession, the Council held a discussion of possible new legislation to prevent a repetition of Hornberger’s unilateral and secret installation of Heather O’Rourke on the ethics panel, despite the fact that the Council refused to approve her nomination. O’Rourke’s nomination could not muster a single vote and died for lack of a second on the nomination. Council minutes reported her nomination as “failed.”

But that did not stop Hornberger, County Administrator Dan Schneckenburger, and Scott from secretly installing her on the ethics panel in late April, although that fact was kept secret and only disclosed over a month later when her name appeared on the county website.

The Council held a heated discussion of the situation on 6/15/2021 but backed down from pursuing the matter further at that time. [SEE CECIL TIMES report here:

At that time, Schneckenburger claimed that since there was no up or down vote on O’Rourke’s name, that meant the administration was free to seat her. He also claimed a 30-day timeclock for action on the nominations started ticking the minute the names were emailed to the Council office. The Council acted on the nominations 29 days after they were introduced to the council at its first available meeting held four days after the email.

The Council is now considering possible legislation to clarify that the clock starts ticking from the date of introduction of a nomination before the Council and that when a nominee cannot even muster a second for the nomination, that means no.

Councilor Jackie Gregory (R-5), a Hornberger political ally, said she thought the council should have to vote yes or no, not just let a nomination die for lack of a second.

MacLeod observed that “I don’t know how you could legally” require the lawmakers to vote on something. “Motions do die for lack of a second.” And he said that “inaction IS action” by a legislative body on a motion.

“I don’t think it ought to be resolved by some hyper-technicality,” he added.

Asked by Council President Bob Meffley (R-1) for his view on the issue, Scott scowled and replied, “I was here” at the previous worksession discussion in June.

Scott said that “good government” requires lawmakers to vote on an issue so citizens have a clear idea of where they stand. He also claimed that nominees are “presumed to be confirmed unless the Council says no.”

Councilor Bill Coutz (R-2) welcomed MacLeod’s comments and said new legislation “should be clarified so there isn’t any loophole left.”

Scott retorted, “I don’t believe there were any loopholes.”

Meanwhile, newly released minutes of the 4/20/2021 initial meeting of Hornberger’s all- new ethics commission show that O’Rourke was seated at that meeting and that she made the motion to pick Andrew Goins as chairman of the panel. Goins is a controversial assistant pastor of a church which holds strongly anti-LGBTQ rights views and believes women should submit to the “leadership” of their husbands.

There was some mystery surrounding who actually attended the April meeting and whether a chairman had been named because the audio of the livestreamed meeting, presided over by Scott, was muted for about the first 15 minutes of the session. Video of the meeting has not been posted, more than two months after the session.

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