Cecil Co Council Makes Strategic, but Heated, Retreat from Showdown with Hornberger on Raises for County Employees; Deputies Still Excluded

March 25, 2022


The Cecil County Council backed down from a fiscal confrontation with County Executive Danielle Hornberger over a $2.8 million pay boost package for some county employees at an “emergency” Council session on Tuesday (3/22/2022), approving the measure on a unanimous 5-0 vote a week after the plan failed on a 2-2 tie vote and Hornberger falsely accused councilors of “de-funding police.” But Sheriff’s deputies were never included in her legislation in the first place.

Hornberger used the official, taxpayer-funded county government website and Facebook page to attack Councilors Bill Coutz (R-2) and Al Miller (R-3) by name in highly partisan terms last week, setting off anger and confusion among citizens and some law enforcement personnel. But Sheriff Scott Adams and leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) union that represents Sheriff’s Deputies subsequently spoke out, saying that the core of local law enforcement, the patrol deputies and other FOP members, were never covered by Hornberger’s plan and therefore were not being ‘de-funded’ at all.

Coutz said on Tuesday he had decided to vote for the legislation this week “reluctantly” because “the county executive has left us with no choice.” He noted that Hornberger was threatening to immediately stop paying COLA pay boosts that county employees have been receiving without Council approval, even though the administration has acknowledged there was already enough money in existing payroll accounts until May.

Miller said he voted for the package to quell the upset among county employees but bitterly criticized Hornberger’s administration for its handling of the matter and cited multiple violations of county law and procedures.

The shift reflected recognition of both calendar and political realities. The Council will get to scrutinize Hornberger’s upcoming Fiscal 2023 budget, which must be submitted to the Council by 4/1/2022, and can raise more objections to her policies at that time. And Hornberger’s false accusations on social media had confused and upset citizens, so prolonging the current fight would only serve her interests.

Councilor Jackie Gregory (R-5), Hornberger’s closest ally on the Council who chimed in on Hornberger’s partisan attacks on the county website and Facebook page, criticized fellow councilors during this week’s emergency session, saying at the meeting that “Nothing has changed since Nov. 4” and “it was money we had approved.”

Gregory’s assertions were patently false. In fact, both the source of funding and the amount changed significantly since Hornberger announced the pay plan in a press release posted on the county website on 11/5/2021. At that time, Hornberger said: “Specifically, the County will use Federal CARES Act money as well as money approved, but not spent in the prior fiscal year to pay for these salary adjustments. In addition, the Administration will present a Resolution to the County Council for authorization to execute the fund transfer. The total cost for these adjustments are expected to be about $1 million dollars for FY22.”

But the legislation sent to the Council this month nearly tripled the price tag and changed the source of funds to pay for it— county bonds “refinancing” proceeds instead of CARES federal COVID impact aid. (Hornberger’s administration has recently acknowledged that it used CARES funds to renovate her personal offices.) And Hornberger did not submit a resolution to the Council for required approval until long after she had already begun paying out funds, and using an undisclosed new payroll classification system that rewarded employees of agencies directly reporting to her with higher salaries, documents obtained by Cecil Times show.

Email exchanges also show that the administration repeatedly delayed or did not fully respond to Council questions for more information about the proposed legislation. The Council requested information for a dollar breakdown by department on 3/3/2022, and added a request on 3/4/2022 for the number of employees per department to be covered by the pay boosts. On March 8, Lawrence Scott, the county attorney and chief political enforcer for the Hornberger administration, provided a list of each department’s spending allocation but did not provide the numbers of employees On 3/15/2022, at 4.30 pm just before a council worksession convened at the same time, Scott provided a list of numbers of employees per department.

That prompted Miller to question why the Sheriff’s Office seemed to be shortchanged, with Lawrence Scott’s numbers claiming that 186 sheriff department employees were sharing in a $248,942 allocation. Miller questioned why other departments with fewer employees seemed to have a higher per capita allocation. The administration’s response was that the figures for the Sheriff’s Office might be incorrect.

That lack of accurate information was why Miller made a motion to table the issue last week until correct information could be obtained, and until Council President Bob Meffley (R-1) could be present, since he was absent due to illness. But Gregory, presiding in Meffley’s absence, pushed the matter to an up or down vote, with the result that the measure failed on a 2-2 tie, with Coutz joining Miller. Gregory and her political compadre, appointed Councilor Donna Culberson (R-4), sided with the administration. )

In fact, it was not until several days after that meeting that some Council members learned independently of more accurate numbers for affected staff at the Sheriff’s Office, concluding it was only about 31 non-union employees instead of the much larger number falsely claimed by Scott.

In addition, a majority of the Council members never received from the Hornberger administration copies of the new payscale categories created and implemented last year without notification or approval by the council. That new policy created special, higher paid salary categories for non-union workers in departments reporting directly to Hornberger and lower pay for equally experienced non-union county workers in non-favored departments. Cecil Times obtained copies independently and reported about them on 3/18/2022 [SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2022/03/hornberger-disinformation-takes-over-cecil-county-website-to-smear-councilors-with-fake-de-funding-cops-claim-documents-show-to-co-exec-pals/ ].and subsequently forwarded the documents to the majority councilors who had been kept in the dark by the administration.

Miller specifically cited the secret payscale changes in comments at this week’s Council session, saying, “A change in pay scales must be approved by the Council before being implemented. The County Code and Charter require that changes to the Personnel Policies and Procedures, which include pay scales, be approved by the Council before being implemented. This did not happen.”

Coutz said “This can never happen again. In legislation related to spending, there needs to be full transparency from the County Administration (from the beginning) on how we are paying for new expenditures and where exactly the money is going.”

“The County Executive, no matter how powerful she thinks she is, has no right to be so secretive with where your money is going and what it is being spent on,” Coutz said. And he insisted that Hornberger must “stop using our County’s Law Enforcement Officers, EMS and First Responders and dedicated County employees as political pawns.”

Gregory has continued to post attacks on Coutz and Miller on the county’s website and Facebook pages, even after the new vote that approved the resolution.

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