Cecil Co Charter Changes on Ballot Aim to Fix County Exec Issues; State Question Would Close Kevin Hornberger Residency Loophole

October 27, 2022


As in-person early voting in the General Election began on Thursday (10/27/2022), Cecil County voters will decide five local Charter amendments, including changes in selection of Ethics Commission members and requiring greater “transparency” on spending and real estate deals by the County Executive. The proposals are designed to address problems that emerged in the first two years of Danielle Hornberger’s administration.

In addition, a proposed amendment to the State Constitution (Question 2) would require a state Delegate or Senator to “maintain” residency withing the boundaries of the district from which he/she was elected. Delegate Kevin Hornberger, Danielle’s husband, lived outside the boundaries of his former District 35-A, according to state land records, financial disclosure statements and sworn mortgage refinancing documents. He got away with using his parents’ address for years because no one challenged his residency within the limited less than two-week window for challenges to the State Board of Elections after a candidate files for office. Currently, the state Constitution only specifies a requirement for district residency at the time of filing but is silent on maintaining residency after an election and for the duration of the four-year Delegate term. A ‘yes’ vote on this state question would close the loophole.

(Ironically, the recently redrawn post-Census state legislative maps place both of the Hornberger residences in the same 35B district, in which he is currently running for re-election. On state financial disclosure forms, he has claimed that he lived rent-free in his parent’s house while renting out the house titled in his name, but he was not receiving any rental income from it. In a mortgage refinancing document filed in state land records, he swore under oath that his no rent rental property was really his permanent residence—which so happened to be outside his legislative district boundaries.)

In the Cecil County Charter questions, perhaps the most controversial is QUESTION D, which changes the selection process for members of the county Ethics Commission. The Charter change would give the County Executive the power to appoint a majority—three members, including the chairman of the panel– while the County Council would get the power to name a minority of two members. Currently, all members are appointed by the County Executive but subject to a confirmation vote by the County Council.

One of Danielle Hornberger’s first actions upon becoming County executive was to unilaterally fire all members of the ethics panel, including members who still had several years left on their current terms. She replaced members with political allies, and installed as chairman a pastor whose church advocated anti-LGBTQ views and demanded submission of women to their husbands. When the County Council objected to some appointees, and refused to provide a “second” to a nomination, the County Attorney, Lawrence Scott, claimed that refusal to proceed with the nomination amounted to acquiescence to Hornberger’s choice and seated her on the panel. The Council would have had sound legal grounds to challenge that unilateral action, but chose not to force the issue. [SEE previous CECIL TIMES report here: http://ceciltimes.com/2021/06/hornberger-secretly-installs-orourke-on-ethics-panel-despite-county-councils-rejection-of-her-nomination-four-months-ago-council-members-angry-at-end-run/ ]

Some county residents have objected, in recent posts on social media, to the proposed ballot question, saying it gives too much power to the County Executive. It does. But it also guarantees a binding voice for the Council. And perhaps most importantly, Hornberger and her closest allies on the current Council, Jackie Gregory (R-5) and Donna Culberson (R-4), vehemently opposed the Charter amendment, which was supported by Councilors Al Miller, Bill Coutz and Bob Meffley, who are all Republicans.

(If you want to waste a few hours of your life, watch the Council worksession video of 6/7/2022, linked here:
https://www.ccgov.org/Home/Components/Calendar/Event/10356/1683?toggle=allpast&npage=2 Culberson was particularly outrageous in her unfounded and uninformed allegations against fellow Councilors, while Council Attorney Chip MacLeod was legally erudite and enlightening on the issues.)

Another very important local ballot issue is QUESTION E, which gives the County Council more information about County Executive-initiated spending contracts and real estate transactions. Hornberger and her council allies, Gregory and Culberson, strongly opposed the ballot question, while Coutz, Meffley and Miller cast majority votes to put the issue on the ballot. (Hornberger dispatched a brief statement to the Council, calling the proposal a “hollow, politically motivated attempt” to limit her authority.)

The ballot question would require the County Executive to disclose to the Council contracts for spending over $100,000 for “purchases and service contracts” and “all real estate purchases, sales and leases” in public worksessions after a contract is awarded.” Originally, the question specified “BEFORE” a contract was awarded but the Council changed the language to “AFTER” a contract award. That change was made after Hornberger aides claimed that the contracting process could become mired in challenges and protests from bidders if there was disclosure of a winning bid prior to the actual award of a contract.

A key concern among the majority of current Councilors is the fate of the former Cecil Bank property, adjacent to the county Courthouse, that was purchased with Council approval at a bargain price by the McCarthy administration to move the State’s Attorney’s office from crowded space in the Courthouse. That would have allowed the courts to expand and create a needed additional courtroom in the Courthouse. But Hornberger nixed that plan and instead has spent county funds to re-arrange space in the courthouse for the State’s Attorney, a move that blocks the judges from getting the space they need to convince the state that another Circuit Court judgeship is needed here to handle an ever-expanding caseload.

The proposed Charter amendment would give the Council greater oversight of any move by Hornberger to sell the property and the terms and conditions of any sale.

QUESTION A, QUESTION C—These two Charter amendments would guarantee that the Council had 30 days to consider candidates to fill a vacancy for members of the Council and the County Executive seat. The Council has to select from a list of names submitted by the political party Central Committee that is the same party as the former occupant of the seat. Under current wording, if a party committee delayed submitting names, the Council might only have a day or two to take action.

QUESTION B—Call this one the pandemic calendar fix and the Vincent Sammons Reading Comprehension amendment. The current Charter specifies that the once every ten years county redistricting commission, which redraws council district maps after the federal census, is supposed to be appointed in April. But due to the pandemic, census data was delayed for several months. This question would specify that the panel is to be appointed within 30 days after receiving the official census numbers.

The current Charter specifies that no elected official may serve on the redistricting panel. But Sammons, who was then the chair of the county GOP Central Committee and had been elected to a seat on the panel in the Republican Party primary on the official election ballot, claimed that he really wasn’t an elected official and should be seated on the redistricting commission.

He eventually gave up his seat on the GOP committee and was given a seat on the redistricting commission. But he then filed a lawsuit asserting that he should not have been required to give up his GOP committee seat. He failed to get the courts to take his side. This Charter amendment would spell out in very clear language that an elected political party official is indeed an elected official barred by the Charter from sitting on the redistricting commission.

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