Hornberger Uses Cecil County Website to Smear Councilors with Fake “De-funding” Cops Claim; Documents Show $ to Co Exec Pals

March 18, 2022


Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger (R) staged a partisan coup on the official county government website and Facebook page on Wednesday (3/17/2022) to falsely accuse two County Council members of voting to “de-fund” local police– when in fact they were simply seeking to delay a vote until they could get more information on how she is financing over $2.8 million in pay boosts for certain county employees, none of whom are Sheriff’s deputies.

In addition, documents obtained by CECIL TIMES show that some of the highest pay boosts in the county would go to Hornberger’s own “executive administration” staff—which includes Lawrence Scott, the county attorney and longtime Annapolis GOP political consultant who has become the de-facto political muscle of the Hornberger administration. Scott could become the highest paid county employee under the pay plan.

Hornberger began implementing the pay boosts last November, even before they were formally presented this month to the County Council, which by law must approve spending changes to the county budget.

Other documents obtained by Cecil Times also show that her administration implemented major changes in the county’s pay classification system in the past few months, including creation of a new category “G” that grants higher pay to employees of departments that report “directly” to the County Executive. As a result, entry level, non-union workers with a “step 1” experience rating working in the executive’s favored departments would earn $1,161 more per year than employees with the same job category and ‘step’ classification who work in non-favored departments. Those changes were not presented to the County Council nor disclosed in public.

Meanwhile, the disinformation campaign began with Hornberger posting on the official county website and Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon that Council members Al Miller (R-3) and Bill Coutz (R-2) had voted to “defund the police” and “pull back on public safety bonuses and raises” for Sheriff’s deputies and a 6 percent cost of living (COLA) pay boost to “all critical county employees.” She said she was “stunned by Councilman Coutz and Miller’s successful effort to defund our public safety employees.”

The Councilors vehemently refuted Hornberger’s claim and as a rhetorical battle raged on Facebook, Cecil County Sheriff Scott Adams weighed in on the county’s official page to dispute the attack on the two Council members and declare that no deputies would lose pay boosts as a result of the legislative action. (In fact, Hornberger has repeatedly refused to consider any salary boosts beyond union contracts negotiated by the Fraternal Order of Police that represents deputies.) Some funds under the proposed legislation could be used for pay boosts for nonunion employees such as clerical or management staff, but the Sheriff would not be eligible for any raise, since his salary is set by legislation passed by the state General Assembly.

“There is a lot of misinformation being thrown around here,” Adams wrote. “One thing that is totally false is that this affects Sworn Law Enforcement and Corrections salaries; IT DOES NOT…I have never known any County Council member to not support CCSO and I don’t believe that is the intent here.”

In fact, Miller and Coutz questioned how the 6 percent pay boosts called for in the legislation would be allocated and said it seemed like the Sheriff’s Office was being shortchanged in comparison with other departments under the limited information provided to them shortly before the 3/15 meeting.

Coutz and Miller focused much of their questions at the Council meeting on how the spending would be paid for and challenged assertions by Scott that a bond refinancing in 2021 would cover the $2.8 million spending bill’s costs under the current Fiscal 2022 budget. Coutz and Miller said it was more appropriate to use budget surplus funds already in hand and challenged the administration’s unilateral decision to extend the terms of many of the capital improvement bonds, a move that will keep the county indebted for projects for up to an additional ten years.

Miller made a motion to “table” further discussion at the meeting because Council President Bob Meffley (R-1) was absent due to a flu illness. But Jackie Gregory (R-5), the Council vice president and close Hornberger ally who was presiding over the meeting in Meffley’s absence, ignored the pending Miller motion and pressed ahead for an up or down vote. Gregory and appointed Councilor Donna Culberson (R-4), a Gregory/Hornberger ally, voted yes, while Miller and Coutz voted no, resulting in a tie vote. Since there was no majority, the measure failed.

By forcing the matter to a vote while Meffley was absent, Gregory clearly knew what the outcome would be. That then gave her the opportunity to join in on Hornberger’s county website and Facebook disinformation campaign, where Gregory posted that “I strongly disagree with their vote to defund our local law enforcement agencies. They did not give any prior indication to me, the public or the County Executive that they wanted to defund the police.”

Gregory has publicly endorsed a challenger to Coutz in this year’s Republican primary for his Council seat. Gregory was re-elected to her Council seat in 2020 but she is now running for state Delegate in District 36. She does not have to give up her County Council seat to run for higher office.

Coutz and Miller have often been critical of what they see as a lack of fiscal transparency by the Hornberger administration. And Miller was the only Council member to vote against confirmation of Lawrence Scott as county attorney after Hornberger fired nearly all county department heads upon taking office.

Both councilors have raised questions about the $2.8 million spending bill since it was first introduced on 3/1/2022 and multiple requests for further information from the administration were ignored or delayed. James Appel, the county Director of Finance and another Annapolis political consultant hired by Hornberger, was absent when the resolution was first presented to the Council and some Councilors suggested that the matter should be delayed until Appel was available to explain it, but Scott insisted the legislation should move forward and the Council relented.

(Sources told CECIL TIMES Appel was on a boating vacation in Florida at the time. As Cecil Times has previously reported, Appel only shows up for county work in Elkton no more than four days a week and he also operates a political consulting business. See previous report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2022/01/cecil-county-finance-chief-rakes-in-annapolis-political-consulting-as-taxpayers-pay-six-figure-salary-council-pleads-for-budget-numbers-aid-accountability-but-gets-belated-or-limited-answers/)

Meanwhile, documents obtained by CECIL TIMES show that Hornberger’s own “executive administration” department would receive a total of $50,033 in bonus pay spread out over 6 people. The County Executive’s salary is set by law at $98,000 a year and is not subject to COLA or bonus pay. But Scott is considered a member of the “executive administration” department.

Scott was hired at an annual salary of $130,000, as disclosed at a budget hearing last year, and he then received a COLA last July. With a new 6 percent pay boost under the pending measure, his pay could rise to nearly $140,000 annually. That could make Scott the highest paid county employee. His fellow Annapolis political consultant, Appel, is currently paid over $124,000 by county taxpayers and a 6 percent pay boost would bring him up to $131,440.

Hornberger’s attack on Miller and Coutz over support for law enforcement is ironic since she is the only local official who has cut back funds for cops. Her current Fiscal 2022 budget slashed $496,352 from the Public Safety Pension Plan, or a 17 percent reduction from the previous administration’s Fiscal 2021 budget, and Hornberger has done nothing to restore those funds despite a huge current budget surplus. The Council cannot independently restore funds cut from the budget by the Executive.

Deputies also spoke out at a recent “town hall” meeting on the budget, convened by Hornberger, to challenge her to boost pay to stop the loss of experienced deputies to other police agencies offering much higher pay. –[SEE Cecil Times report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2022/03/deputies-spending-transparency-advocates-challenge-hornberger-at-budget-town-hall-schools-library-backers-join-chorus-of-critics/ ]

Responding to Hornberger’s attack on him, Coutz denounced her “blatant lie” accusing him and Miller of trying to “defund the police.”

“The resolution we voted against was for a 6% raise to go to certain county employees. The County Executive refused to give us specific information about who was getting these raises and why the very specific select groups of employees were selected for the raise and not others, including our law enforcement deputies who are already being badly underpaid by the County Executive’s administration. I have a long record of strong support for our police,” he said.

“What was truly shameful about this whole incident, however, is the fact that the County Executive used taxpayer funded employees and the official County Government Facebook page to spread shameless misinformation about such an important issue, knowing it would get people upset and scared, so that she could further her own political ambitions in the county and state.” He condemned what he called “political propaganda” posted by Hornberger and he thanked Sheriff Adams and other law enforcement officers for voicing their support of him and his long record of support for public safety agencies.

Miller said he was in fact “standing up for” law enforcement when he sought to table the spending bill because Lawrence Scott could not answer his questions about why the Sheriff’s Office seemed to be shortchanged for extra pay under the legislation.

“I questioned the administration on how the Cecil County Sheriff’s Department with 186 employees was only going to receive about $249,000. I also asked why the largest sum of money which was $596,000 was being distributed to a department with only 104 employees. The administration response was the number for the Cecil County Sheriff’s Department was probably too high.”

In fact, Miller said, the Sheriff’s allocation “was the lowest amount per employee. I am not defunding the police as stated by County Executive Danielle Hornberger, I am doing the complete opposite. I am standing up for the Cecil County Sheriff’s Department.”

Council President Bob Meffley (R) had endorsed a proposal by Hornberger to boost pay for county employees when she announced it last November, but he had not discussed the matter with other Council members before doing so. Hornberger went ahead with implementing the pay changes without bothering to bring it to the full Council for approval, as required by law. She has been getting around that requirement for months by drawing down existing payroll accounts, which Scott now says would be depleted by May unless the Council approves her plan.

After Hornberger’s social media and county website attacks, which did not mention Meffley, he now says he is siding with Coutz and Miller and has strong reservations about how Hornberger wants to pay for her plan and who will benefit from pay boosts.

According to Meffley, when the administration sponsored bond refinancing legislation, Council members were told that the savings that resulted from lower interest rates would be used for county infrastructure such as road repair.

He also said that it appears Hornberger’s plans for distributing the new pay boosts favor “top management” while shortchanging lower salaried staff in county departments.

Hornberger’s diatribe on Coutz and Miller was not the first time she has used social media to attack members of the County Council if they disagree with her. But her previous screed, in a video accusing councilors of being beholden to “special interests,” was posted on her political campaign Facebook page. It was easily refuted, since the lawmakers she attacked had minimal campaign contributions or mostly small donations from local county residents. In contrast, her own campaign finance report was loaded with out of county donations from development interests, Political Action Committees and allies of her political mentor, Rep. Andy Harris. [SEE previous Cecil Times report here: Hornberger Insults Cecil County Councilors Who Question Her Demands; Strongarm Tactics by Appointees Trigger Independence Moves by Council | Cecil Times

UPDATE: Late Friday afternoon, the Council scheduled an “emergency legislative meeting” on Tuesday, 3/22/2022 to reconsider the spending bill. Sources said the Council will also consider questions of spending and budget “transparency” by the county executive.

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