Cecil County Commissioner Brian Lockhart, the current president of the Board, filed for re-election as a Democrat on Wednesday, saying he was proud of the Board’s accomplishments in the past four years.
Lockhart filed his candidacy a few days after Democrat Joe Janusz formally withdrew his candidacy for the Third District seat. Lockhart had previously decided against running again and had given his blessing to Janusz to run for the seat. But when Janusz decided to withdraw from the campaign for personal reasons, Lockhart decided to get back into the race. (See previous Cecil Times report on Janusz’ decision here: ttp://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/05/03/family-concerns-led-to-janusz-pullback-on-commissioner-race/
In an interview with The Cecil Times, Lockhart said one of the most important accomplishments of his term was the creation of a citizens’ comprehensive plan review panel and the adoption of a new comprehensive plan to guide future growth policies. The panel’s recommendations were generally well received in the community and were adopted with just a few revisions.
The board president also cited the renovations and expansion of the county detention center expected to get underway soon after many years of planning. However, the county is currently seeking concessions from the Town of Elkton on more than $400,000 in fees that the town wants to assess on the project and Lockhart said at this week’s Commissioner’s work session he would be willing to look for another site outside town limits if the town does not lower the fees.
Lockhart said he was pleased that the Commisioners were able to adopt a budget for Fiscal 2011 that cut the tax rate. “We need to keep the tax rate as low as possible but still keep services like police and ambulance,” he said. “When people dial 911 they want an immediate response.” He added that the budget was cut without layoffs or furloughs, which was important to “maintain our county workforce and keep up morale.”
While Lockhart’s district is based in the Rising Sun area, he has to run countywide. In a nod to southern Cecil County, he said he would support creation of new parks south of the Canal. The county currently has a small boat ramp at the state-owned Earleville Wildlife Management Area but no county parks in the area. However, a proposed senior citizens/community center in Cecilton was dropped from the county’s five-year Comprehensive Plan this year. Lockhart said that due to the tight budget new projects such as the Cecilton proposal were shelved. But he claimed that the county parks and recreation department might be able to “do something in the south county.”
Being a Commissioner “is a full-time, seven day a week job,” Lockhart said. But Lockhart also wears other hats, some of which have required him to abstain from votes on important issues pending before the Board and led to an Ethics Board finding that he failed to file proper financial disclosures.
He owns two trash removal companies and abstained from voting on the recent controversial plan to cut back hours at the landfill and trash transfer stations and to charge fees for people who bring recyclables, even if they do not deposit trash, as well as higher fees for those who bring their trash to the county facilities. The plan was adopted on a 3-1 vote, so Lockhart’s abstention did not affect the outcome. (Opponents of the proposal said it could lead to people dumping trash by the roadsides or force them to hire private trash services that could be cheaper in the long run than the new county fees.)
Lockhart is also a member of the Board of Directors of the parent company of Cecil Bank, and this week he abstained from voting on selling a parcel of county-owned land to profit-making developers of a proposed senior citizens apartment building in Elkton. Cecil Bank is involved in financing the project and is set to sell an empty building and its land to the developers. The land was not included in the original senior housing plan but was added recently for “open space and a garden,” according to a representative of the developer. The Town of Elkton is currently being sued by two citizens over concessions made to the developer and Cecil Bank as part of the project.
Lockhart has also abstained from votes on projects by his father-in-law, prominent developer Barry Montgomery, including a recent proposal for an apartment project in the Appleton Road area.
Lockhart has abstained from voting on the controversial Aston Point housing development, which is receiving financing through Cecil Bank. But citizens opposed to the project filed an ethics complaint because he spoke in favor of granting water and sewer services to the project at a county commissioners’ work session. After an inquiry that cost taxpayers $25,000, Lockhart and the ethics panel signed an agreement stipulating that he improperly failed to disclose his ownership of stock in the bank’s parent company on mandatory financial disclosure forms. He told the Cecil Times that he mistakenly thought he did not have to list the stock in a publicly-traded company in which he was a small investor and that his ties to the bank were a matter of common knowledge.
At the time of his election in 2006, Lockhart was an employee of the bank, as vice president for business development. Lockhart’s picture and cell phone number were prominently displayed throughout the campaign season in commercial advertising placed by the bank in local newspapers. Those ads were not counted as campaign expenditures and Lockhart ran a low-budget campaign. He also did not attend candidate forums to face questions from community groups and voters.
He said he plans to run for re-election in much the same way, without a lot of yard signs or other trappings of political campaigns. “I’m not a big sign waver,” he said. “And I’m not going to spend $70,000 for a job that pays $30,000 a year.” He said he would rely on personal contacts with voters, phone calls, and “taking people to lunch.” He said he takes people to lunch “two or three times a week” at his own expense.
In 2006, Lockhart defeated incumbent Republican Harry A. Hepbron, who had served two terms on the board. Hepbron filed his candidacy this week to try to regain his old seat. Hepbron faces a contested Republican primary but a potential re-match between Hepbron and Lockhart could be one of the more interesting local contests this year. Hepbron is the owner of Dove Valley Vineyard and Winery in Rising Sun, where he grows grapes and produces award-winning wine with his family.