Cecil County Council Avoids Political Dodgeball: Picks Culberson for Vacant Seat, Commends Panel That Rejected Mischief Maps

November 19, 2021


Faced with limited options, the Cecil County Council took a path of subtle resistance this week when it picked the least politically challenging candidate to fill a vacant Council seat that will be on the ballot in next year’s elections. The Council also welcomed a redistricting commission report that rejected some highly partisan maps that could have pitted incumbent councilors against each other in districts that looked like a plate of spaghetti.

The Council voted 3-0 to install Donna Culberson, of Conowingo, in the District 4 seat previously held by George Patchell, who was mid-way in his second term on the Council but recently resigned to take the job of Perryville town administrator. Absent from both the afternoon worksession and evening legislative meeting of the Council on Tuesday (11/16/2021) was Jackie Gregory (R-5), the chief Council cheerleader for County Executive Danielle Hornberger.

In picking Culberson, the Council was drawing from a list of three candidates submitted by the county’s Republican Central Committee, which under the county Charter had the authority to select the nominees because Patchell was a Republican. If the council had rejected or deadlocked on the candidates, then the County Executive would have had the power to unilaterally install her choice on the Council.

Council members had interviewed the three nominees in a closed session last week and were mum in public on the reasons for their choice. Gregory, who had participated in a Monday night planning commission meeting, sent word to Elkton on Tuesday that she was not feeling well and would miss the Council meetings. With her absence, she avoided potentially being on a losing side in the balloting.

One of the nominees, Ed Larsen, was a close ally of Vincent Sammons, a Hornberger political operative and the chairman of the county’s GOP central committee until recently when he had to step down from that post to take a Republican seat on the redistricting commission. Sammons was the campaign treasurer for Larsen when he filed as a candidate against Patchell in the 2018 election.

Larsen, who owns a janitorial business that has had contracts to clean a state-owned building in North East, also drew support from members of the local Campaign for Liberty group in that campaign. His candidacy was launched with a website gambit that adopted Patchell’s full name and re-directed viewers to his own site to solicit donations.

Apparently not content to make a straightforward appeal to voters with his own name and website, Larsen registered at least four website domain names that were plays upon George Patchell’s name, according to records on file with the ICANN/ WHOIS database that oversees Internet domain name registrations. One of the sites, “GeorgePatchell.com,” was activated but with an immediate re-direct to his own “Larsen4Cecil.com” web page, which included a prominent button urging visitors to donate to his campaign. So people looking to visit Patchell’s campaign were instead immediately re-directed to Larsen’s campaign.

At the time, the ruse was widely denounced as a “dirty trick” and Patchell said he thought it was “inconceivable” that his opponent would stoop to such underhanded tactics. “Character and integrity mean a lot to me,” Patchell said. He went on to soundly defeat Larsen in the GOP primary election.

(In a resume submitted to the Council recently, Larsen listed “integrity” and “confidence” as his job skills.)

After CECIL TIMES exposed the name-grabbing ploy in his 2018 campaign, Larsen disabled the link and belatedly reported his campaign expenditures on the Patchell-named websites to the State Board of Elections, after previously failing to disclose the spending as required.

[See CECIL TIMES special report on that campaign and Larsen’s name’s-the-same game here: http://ceciltimes.com/2018/04/more-names-the-same-political-dirt-larsen-grabs-patchells-name-for-website-to-link-to-his-own-campaign-donation-site/ ]

By passing over Larsen, the Council avoided giving him a leg-up in the 2022 election to fill the seat for a full four-year term. Larsen, as well as the other GOP committee nominees, told the Council that each intended to run for the seat if appointed to the temporary opening.

A potentially strong candidate for the seat in the next election is former Perryville mayor Robert Ashby, who applied for the vacancy but was not put on the GOP Central Committee’s list.

Unlike past aspirants to the County Council, the GOP committee’s nominees lacked strong records of civic group and community organization involvement and experience.

Culberson attended Cecil College on a part-time basis for two years but lists no degree on her resume. She currently works as a “business office operations consultant” assisting business office staff at long-term care facilities. She previously worked as an assistant business manager at Calvert Manor nursing home, specializing in debt collections. She has been active in groups opposed to COVID vaccinations and her social media posts have frequently been flagged by Facebook for circulating misinformation on the virus and vaccines.

(Another name on the GOP committee list, Richard (Rick) Wilson: of Perryville, is a HVAC company employee and a former pastor at a church in Harford County until 2017. He has recently been a vocal critic at county school board meetings and in groups opposed to student mask-wearing rules and discussion of racial matters in schools.)

Culberson will need to read the county Charter and state laws on just what the powers of the Council are, since some of the issues she has raised as her priorities and her positions are outside the County Council’s jurisdiction or contrary to state law.

Meanwhile, Sammons’ political agenda had another major setback when a bipartisan 11-member Redistricting Commission recently rejected his proposals, including maps that would have drawn what some called a “finger” and others saw as spaghetti strands. The effect of the proposals would have been to pit two incumbents up for re-election in 2022 into the same district and another plan that would have put two other Council members who were re-elected in 2018 into the same district. The goal of the plan seemed to be to create the possibility of more Hornberger-friendly seats on the Council.

Sammons had sought to politicize the process from the outset, initially refusing to obey a Charter requirement that no “elected” official could sit on the redistricting panel. He filed a lawsuit seeking to challenge the provision, although he was elected in the last election to a seat on the GOP Central Committee. Eventually he backed down and resigned his Central Committee seat, at least temporarily, and is expected to go back on that panel now that the redistricting assignment is over.

[SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2021/09/cecil-county-council-unveils-redistricting-commission-sammons-stirs-political-pot-to-get-gop-seat/ ]

Dr. Carl Roberts, the former superintendent of county schools who was appointed by the Council to chair the redistricting panel, presented the adopted maps to the Council on Tuesday (11/16/2021.) Five members were Republicans and five were Democrats appointed by their respective party committees, as provided by the county Charter. The maps were adopted on a bipartisan vote of 7-4.

“I believe partisanship played a part” in the rejected maps that would have affected multiple districts and many residents throughout much of the county, Roberts said.

The Council will hold a public hearing on the maps on 12/7/2021. The Council does not have to vote on the plan, which would then take effect automatically within 90 days after it was submitted to the Council. Councilors present at the Tuesday meetings expressed support for the overall maps, since they created minimal disruption in current district lines and avoided potentially costly changes in creation of new polling places.

There was little of substance to dispute from the outset of the process, since there were only about 2,000 residents to move from one district to another to assure equitable districts under the new Census figures. The 2020 census counted the county population at 103,983, an increase of 2,043 people from the previous census. District 1, covering the largely rural south county, had about 2,000 too few people while the adjacent District 2 covering Elkton had about 2,000 too many people in it.

The commission decided to shift 2,043 people, including 1,263 currently registered voters, from Dist 2 to Dist 1. The affected Elkton area includes homes in the Red Hill Rd and Delancy Rd. areas and only affects two precincts.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Fine Maryland Wines
Proudly made in Cecil County