October 6, 2010

Dear Cecil Times Readers,

  Today The Cecil Times is moving from a blog on the WordPress platform to a dedicated website:  www.ceciltimes.com

  Some of you had found our site while it was under construction but the site is now up and running and henceforth all new content will be posted only at the website. For the next few days, we will still be checking back on the blog and shifting over any comments our readers post here. But in the future, all comments should be posted on articles on the website. The format is pretty much the same for posting comments there as it was here, with a new sidebar box highlighting recent reader comments.

   We are transitioning our previous email subscribers to the new platform but if your subscription gets lost in the shuffle, you can sign up on the new website directly. There are new options for subscribing there, too.  However, going forward the full text of news articles will not be included on emails. You will receive a summary with a link to read the complete article on the website.

  Moving an archive as large as ours from the blog to a website took more effort and patience than we had expected, and we are grateful to our web guru, Ken Chamberlain. Any glitches that we uncover as we still kick the tires on our new vehicle will likely be a matter of operator-error, not the designer.

  So join us at our new home:  www.ceciltimes.com

UPDATE: Sheriff’s Campaign Finances

September 9, 2010

    Cecil Times has published multiple reports on the campaign finances of the crowded field of candidates running in the Democratic and Republican primaries for Cecil County Sheriff. Here is a brief update on where the candidates’ finances stand as of the most recent reports to the state Board of Elections, filed Sept. 3.

Democratic Primary Candidates:


 He raised an additional $14,688 since his last campaign finance report. After expenses of $8,978, plus a carry-over balance of about $24, he ended up with $5,684 cash in the bank.  Most of his funds came from another golf fundraising event.

 But he also had several large donations, the largest of which was $1,250 from Sentman Distributors in Elkton. He also had several donations from businesses in the southern part of the county, including $500 from TD Enterprises in Earleville, $400 from First Choice Concrete in Earleville, and a $300 donation from the Chesapeake Inn in Chesapeake City.

Republicans contributing  $440 each for entry fees for the golf event included Chris Zeauskas, whose campaign in the GOP primary for 2nd District county commissioner previously received donations from Democrat Sutton;  Michael Halter, a GOP primary candidate for State’s Attorney; and Will Davis, who ran as a Republican candidate for State’s Attorney four years ago. Halter and Davis also participated in an earlier golf fundraiser.


   He raised an additional $1,200, and had expenses of $1,537.  His largest expense was $1,095 for a full page ad in the Cecil Whig. 

   Adding in his $2,231 carryover bank balance from his last report, he ended up with $1,894 cash in the bank.

   DeWitt’s fundraising came from individual and business donors, with no new fundraising events. White Horse Apartments in Perryville contributed $400 while Wright’s Auto in Elkton gave $300.


  The last-minute entrant into the Democratic primary had been all but invisible on the campaign trail but surfaced with a fundraiser event in Port Deposit. But the $2,056 costs of the event were more than the $1,985 it raised from  ticket purchases.  Gerczak, a former Baltimore City police officer, received a $500  Political Action Committee donation from the Fraternal Order of Police, Baltimore City Lodge 3.

  He had no campaign printing expenses but did receive an in-kind donation of $300 worth of signs and pamphlets from Donald Allen of North East. He has $429  cash on hand in his bank account.

Republican Primary Candidates:


The pre-primary campaign finance report that was due to be filed Sept. 3 has not yet been filed, according to the state Board of Elections website. The Board has assessed a late fee/fine of $40 as of Thursday, Sept. 9.


   Slater continued to pick up the pace of his campaign, with new fundraising and contributions totaling $3,785 since the previous pre-primary report he filed in early August. Most of his funds came from a dinner he hosted at the Hack’s Point fire hall in Earleville. Despite the southern Cecil County location of the event, most of the ticket purchasers were from the northern part of the county, as well as purchasers from Pennsylvania and Harford County. However, direct donations to his campaign in the latest report showed the largest sum, $300, came from an Earleville resident, Pat Smart.

  After expenses of $1,986,  and a carry-over bank balance from his last campaign finance report, Slater had  net proceeds of $1,868 cash in the bank.


   He contributed another $120 to his own campaign, and after spending $307 on a newspaper ad, had just $33 cash in the bank.

Michael Halter Files to Run Against Chris Eastridge for State’s Attorney

June 6, 2010

   Michael J. Halter, a veteran Deputy State’s Attorney for Cecil County, has filed as a Republican candidate for State’s Attorney to run against incumbent Democrat Christopher Eastridge, who appointed Halter as his deputy. Halter was once quoted as saying he would never run against Eastridge.

  Eastridge suffered an embarrasing slap in the face from the judicial nominating commission several months ago when he was passed over for recommendation to the Governor for an appointment to the Circuit Court to replace the retired Judge Dexter Thompson. The Governor recently appointed Democrat V. Michael Whelan, a veteran trial attorney and former assistant State’s Attorney, to the judgeship.

  Eastridge just filed for re-election as State’s Attorney on June 2, one day after Halter filed as a Republican candidate for the job, according to state Board of Elections records.

  To compound the political complexities, E.D.E. “Ellis” Rollins III filed as a Republican candidate for State’s Attorney last summer, so Halter and Rollins would face each other in the GOP primary. But Rollins has also hedged his political bets by applying for a judicial appointment. Although Rollins was passed over for the Thompson seat, Rollins remains on the recommended list for one other current vacancy on the Circuit Court, and yet another seat will be vacated in the fall with the upcoming retirement of Judge O. Robert Lidums.

 Rollins is a political newcomer, as is Halter. But as a Republican, Rollins’ chances of getting a judicial appointment from a Democratic governor seeking re-election this year seem slim. Although Rollins has not run for political office before, his grandfather served as the county’s State’s Attorney, state Attorney General and Circuit Court judge, and his father was also a  Circuit Court judge.

 Halter was a full-time prosecutor for much of his tenure with the local State’s Attorney’s office, unlike many of the assistant state’s attorneys who work on a part-time basis as prosecutors while handling civil matters in private practice. Halter joined the office in 2004 and was appointed the Deputy State’s Attorney by Eastridge in 2007, after the retirement of the long-time Deputy, David Parrack.  At the time of his appointment, Halter was quoted in an interview with The Cecil Whig as saying he would “never” run against Eastridge, although he expressed interest in the State’s Attorney job if his boss decided to leave and do something else.

  With a judgeship pass-over by the nominating commission, Eastridge has put his political future on the re-election block.  

  But this is, after all, Cecil County and all things political are often not quite what they seem. Halter’s entry into the GOP primary means that Rollins will have a very credible challenger. The Rolllins family name is golden in the county and Rollins has been a trial attorney but not a prosecutor, while Halter would bring intensive prosecutorial experience to the top job. An aggressive primary campaign could rough up Rollins even if he wins, giving Eastridge an advantage in a general election match-up with Rollins. But if Halter wins the Republican primary, it would set up an intriguing boss-deputy contest, assuming that Halter would want to criticize his former mentor.

   But Halter has not been shy about criticizing some Cecil County judges. He drew some fire in the past for openly criticizing what he saw as  unwarranted leniency toward defendants by some judges, especially Judge Thompson.

Halter has set up a private law practice website, http://www.myelktonlawyer.com/home.html on which he touts his experience prosecuting over 2,000 cases with the State’s Attorney’s office but also emphasizes his skills as a criminal defense attorney who “knows the weaknesses of the State’s case” and would “get the best results for his clients.”  It could not be confirmed Sunday when he left his position as deputy to Eastridge.

  The Cecil Times has left phone messages for Halter and will update this report accordingly. Eastridge could not be reached for comment Sunday, with phone listings reported as disconnected.

NEWS UPDATE: The Cecil Times interviewed both men on Monday and posted a new article on their comments. The story is here:


Assault Cases Dropped Against Two Deputies

February 9, 2010

   Separate assault cases against two Cecil County Sheriff’s Deputies have been dropped, according to court records. In addition, a civil suit filed by the deputies against Sheriff Barry Janney– challenging their assignments to  menial, non-law enforcement duties pending the outcome of their criminal cases– has been dismissed.

   Gregory D. Passwaters,  of Earleville, a veteran deputy who was assigned to patrol southern Cecil County, was indicted by a grand jury  last summer on a charge of second-degree assault stemming from an off-duty incident last May. The investigation of the alleged incident, reportedly occurring at the Chesapeake Inn in Chesapeake City, was handled by State Police.

   According to court documents, a “notice of dismissal” was filed in the case on February 8 and the state declined to prosecute further.

 In a separate, unrelated case, an assault charge against another deputy, Thomas H. Pierson III, of Elkton, was dropped in December. That case allegedly involved an off-duty altercation with another deputy. Court files show the state declined to prosecute on Nov. 25 and a dismissal notice was filed December 4, 2009.

   Passwaters and  Pierson filed a civil suit last August against Sheriff Janney, saying they had been assigned to the county parks department and ordered to mow grass and pull weeds while suspended from law enforcement duties pending the outcome of their criminal cases. The deputies maintained that re-assigning them to the Parks agency, instead of administrative duties within the Sheriff’s Department, was a violation of the Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights.

  Court records show that civil suit was terminated with a “stipulation of dismissal” filed by the deputies on December 23.

   The Cecil Times does not usually cover crime or court cases, since that is one of the things the Cecil Whig actually does report on in great detail. However, we are puzzled that the Whig, which prominently published accusations against the deputies, has not published the fact that the charges  were dropped and the civil case dismissed, according to our search of their online archives.

   If the press is quick to accuse, it must be just as quick to publish the exoneration and do so just as prominently as the original charge. To do otherwise is unfair both to the accused and to the news organization’s readers .

    In southern Cecil County, Deputy Passwaters is well known and highly respected for his service to the community. Many residents will welcome his return to patrolling their neighborhoods.

Cecil Tech School: Vote for Fairness– and Your Stove!

September 17, 2009

   As Cecil County copes with cutbacks in state funds, we are faced with choices on planning–and paying for– our future needs. One of the most important decisions for our newly elected school board– and County Commissioners– will be on prioritizing the long-proposed and much delayed “comprehensive high school”– otherwise known as a four-year School of  Technology.

   By way of history, the current School of Technology is  a part-time ‘trade” school, offered on a part-time basis to juniors and seniors at regular, comprehensive high schools in the county.  In late 2006, a previous Board of Commissioners– after listening to the Chamber of Commerce, BEPAC and economic development officials as well as parents– manned up and pushed the “comprehensive high school” into top priority planning funds under the county’s Capital Plan.  Thanks to former Elkton High School Principal Nelson Bolender (and then County Commissioner) for leading the initiative, along with former Commissioner Harry Hepbron, a self-made businessman who had long advocated education and technical training to promote job development.

   But under our new Board of Commissioners, a new, expanded School of Technology has been put on the back burner.  This is despite the fact that only about 16 percent of Cecil County adults had four-year college degrees in the last census (and maybe up to 19 percent, thanks to newcomers in the northern part of the county, under 2008 estimates by the state.)  So where are the jobs, and the requisite training, for the many Cecil County young people who do not have the money, inclination, or smarts to pursue a four-year college degree?

   This all becomes a crucial issue right now as the elected Board of  Education is facing an imminent decision on whether to support an improved School of Technology– or bow to some demands for  nickel and dime capital improvements to local schools.

   We are pleased that the Cecil Whig actually addressed this issue, in a news report earlier this week, reporting that the School Board is considering several options on the tech school proposal. The School Board has to decide whether to place the tech school at the top of its school construction priority list– so as to request state school construction funding– or whether to lower it to 5th on the priority list (a guarantee that the state of Maryland will do nothing to help advance the project, given the current budget crisis).

   The final option for the county school board would be to drop the new tech school off its priority list entirely– a prescription for killing the school entirely.

     Now, about our stove….

    If you think you have nothing at stake in this debate, you should look in your kitchen.  Do you have a new stove, with lots of electronic bells and whistles and LCD’s? How about your frig?  Have you tried to get them repaired recently, especially if you live in a rural area of Cecil County? Well, we have.

   To make many days of phone calls, web searches and other angst short, our stove cannot be repaired because we live in Cecil County. No one available, or a three- week wait, we were told. Oh, so you are close to the Delaware line? No, we can’t service you because you are in Cecil County.

    Let’s face it: not everyone in Cecil County is a rocket scientist. If they were, they would not live here because there are no jobs for them.  But we have a  serious need for skilled tech and repair services that people desperately need, but the future tech workers need the training to do these jobs.

    If the School Board could approve spending for Chinese language instruction a few years ago– so how many people really benefit from that– why won’t they approve funds for a new, expanded tech school? It isn’t fair to spend funds on a limited use program like that while the vast majority of students, who need technical training for the jobs of the future, are left out.

    So contact the School Board and the Cecil County Commissioners to support putting a new four-year School of Technology/ or “comprehensive high school” at the top of the capital priority list. You owe it to the kids of this county– and to your stove!


UPDATE:  We finally got our stove fixed, thanks to the online website of www.sears.com

  We bought our stove from Lowes, which basically did nothing to help us, and after many hours on the phone with Kitchenaid, we were told we were on our own. But Lo and behold, Sears came through for us, even though we did not buy our stove from them.

   No, we don’t get paid anything by Sears, but we must tell other Cecil County residents that you can, no matter how rural the area in which you live, get appliance services from Sears via an online appointment and toll free phone service!

   Oh, and when our wonderful Sears guy came to repair our stove, he told us he got his training at a Technical High School, plus subsequent on the job training. He agreed that we must have more Tech School programs and training to help our kids and consumers to get the help they all need!

SECOND UPDATE: The School Board and the County Commissioners must not have quirky stoves in their kitchens, since they abandoned the Tech School and removed it from the five-year Capital Plan during the 2010 budget process. So there is no Tech School on the horizon and no hope for local students needing advanced technical training. But  this is an election year and citizens concerned about the issue can bring it up with candidates for School Board and County Commissioner to try to change the fate of a Tech School.

Cecil Times Returns!

June 15, 2009

   We put our little blog in its crib to take a long winter’s nap after the November elections, thinking we had done our part to inform voters with original reporting on issues and campaign finance that the public should know about — but had not been reported in our local newspaper or the regional press. We thought our work was done; after all, we don’t get paid for this and wordpress doesn’t allow advertising on blogs it hosts for free.

   A lot has happened since we began our nap.

  The Whig has been castrated even more by its Australian ownership, with the firing of the few people who had any knowledge of Cecil County history and issues, as part of a cost-cutting scheme. The Baltimore Sun, which only rarely covered Cecil County in recent years, suffered the Calvert Street Massacre in which a third of the news staff was summarily dismissed as the latest insult imposed by its Chicago real estate magnate owner.  And the Cecil County blogging landscape turned into a mudwrestler’s haven. (With the exception of our favorite www.someonenoticed.wordpress.com blog hosted by the erudite and always interesting Mike Dixon.)

    So we think it’s time for The Cecil Times to wipe the sleep from our eyes, put on the coffee pot and fire up our keyboard. We will soon pick up where we left off:  looking at important election issues and campaign finance matters. We all just recovered from the last election but the next election season is already upon us: campaign 2010 is already underway.

    See you on the blog or around the Cecil County neighborhoods.

   –The Cecil Times

Demmler Bankrolls Mullin: Commissioner Payback Time?

October 30, 2008

    We’re BAACK– Sorry to have taken a hiatus, but we were sick and tired,  and mostly sick. So since we don’t get paid for this,  it has taken us a while to report and write what our local “newspaper” with full time paid employees hasn’t: new campaign finance reports– filed 10/24/08– for local County Commissioner candidates. First, we’ll look at the 1st District Commissioner race between Republican Jim Mullin and Democrat Pamela H. Bailey.

     There’s not much to report on Pamela Bailey, who has not filed a detailed campaign finance report.  According to Cecil County election officials, she filed an affadavit saying she would not be raising or spending over $1,000, so she does not have to file a full report either on paper locally or online with the state Board of Elections.  In that case, we are surprised to see so many printed yard signs around her home base of Earleville. As she has stated to the public, she already has a full-time job as a secretary at the School of Technology and two part-time jobs. So who knows how much time she has to spare for fundraising, campaigning or actually serving as a County Commissioner.

    Without a serious opponent, Republican Jim Mullin of Earleville seems to be a shoo-in in the 1st District. But looking at his campaign finances, there is a very interesting angle: current County Commissioner Rebecca Demmler is his biggest donor. Could it be payback for the financial support Mullin gave her when she was running for County Commissioner in the last local election? Or could it be “pay it forward,” with Demmler donating to a pal she expects will vote along with her as a Commissioner?

    In his pre-general election report, Mullin states he has raised a total of $10,294 in individual, party committee and Political Action Committee donations.  He has also made a personal loan to his campaign of $8,550, which is counted as a separate line item in addition to the $10,294 in donations.

    But the telling category is the sub-set of individual and business donors, amounting to $7,094. Of that figure, current County Commissioner Rebecca Demmler made an outright donation of $2,000 on 5/03/08 and $500 on 9/15/08, for a total of $2,500– or nearly a third of all donations. Mullin also does not report individual identities of purchasers of tickets to his fundraisers– listing instead, a “lump sum” of receipts from two campaign fundraisers, amounting to a total of $1,429. So there is no way of telling whose other donations might be included under this anonymous category.

    Mullin also received a $1,000 Political Action Committee (PAC) donation from the Cecil County Lodge #2, Fraternal Order of Police in Elkton, on 9/25/08. But drilling down in his expenditures, you find he made a “transfer” of funds  of $280 out of his campaign treasury previously, on 7/24/08, to the same FOP lodge, “including ticket purchases.” So the net FOP cash into the Mullin campaign amounts to $720. The ‘transfer’ from Mullin to the FOP occurred before the FOP donation to him.

    Mullin also received $2,200 from the county’s Republican Central Committee. (Funny, but we didn’t see a Mullin donation to fellow Republican Robert Hodge, who chairs the GOP central committee and is running in the 5th Commissioner district, beyond a puny $25 fundraiser ticket.)

   It is also telling who hasn’t yet donated to Mullin’s campaign. No members of the local Republican state legislative delegation whose districts coincide with Mullin’s local turf–Del. Michael Smigiel, Del. Dick Sossi or Mr. Moneybags State Sen. E.J. Pipkin– have donated to Mullin. That is probably because they know a sure thing when they see it and are saving their cash for their own  re-election efforts, or other Republican candidates with more contested campaigns this year.

   But we are struck by Commissioner Demmler’s investment of such a large amount in the sure-thing candidacy of Mullin.  Both Demmler and Mullin are Republicans, but more than party loyalty is at work here, as we will document subsequently. (Demmler has made a hiccup $50 ticket purchases donation to fellow Republican Robert Hodge, running in the 5th District Commissioner race, while her husband has donated lots more to 5th District Democratic opponent Sharon Weygand and he also made a donation to write-in candidate Tom McWilliams in that 5th District contest. More on that in our next posting.)

Whig Wakes Up (Sort of…)

September 30, 2008

    It is long overdue, but the Cecil Whig is finally waking up to the fact that it has online competition from local news bloggers that have frequently written about issues that the Whig either did not cover at all or did not publish in print or put online until a day or more later.

   In the past few days, the Whig is starting to post, by mid-afternoon, an online summary of the stories its reporters are working on for the next day’s print edition.  The Whig is also being more pro-active about posting online Associated Press items throughout the day. That’s not original reporting on the Whig’s part, but at least the updates give an impression of timeliness, even though one could easily obtain the same news from a constantly updated website like www.cnn.com

  And, it is a measure of the Whig’s sudden, and belated, recognition of the increasing online competition in the current news/online marketplace, that they are starting to post news articles online before the next day’s print publication.

   An important example– although, in fact, a rather slow posting in the “news now” world of the Internet– is the Whig article, written by editor Terry Peddicord, on a candidate’s forum in Rising Sun. It happened on Monday, and he didn’t write it online until mid-day Tuesday. But it would appear that the print/ink on paper version won’t make it into the newspaper until Wednesday.

   Better late than never. And anything that this, and other news blogs in the county, are doing to wake up the Whig is a good thing.

Gloom, But Not Doom, in Cecil Housing Market

September 30, 2008

   It was nice to see the Whig write about housing foreclosures in Cecil County in Tuesday’s editions, focusing on a counselor who is working with families and their mortgage lenders to find solutions. We’ve been hearing about the foreclosure “crisis” nationally for quite some time so it was overdue for the Whig to write about the local scene. But there is more to the housing picture in Cecil County.

    A local Realtor, Megan McGonigal, has been posting monthly information and analysis of Cecil County home sale trends and a look at the data shows all is not doom for the housing market here. In fact, the length of time for the buying market to “absorb” all the homes available for sale has improved since February.  And in July, the average days on the market before a house sold was 166 days, up just 19 days from the 147 days it took to sell homes in July, 2007.  You can read her report here:


    There is a wealth of data about Cecil County houses that are in pre-foreclosure status (papers filed but not yet taken over) and bank-owned houses on the Realty Trac website. Most recent stats for Cecil are 53 houses in pre-foreclosure and 31 bank-owned homes.

  Cecil County has the highest numbers for the Eastern Shore but is well below the figures for counties on the Western Shore. In August, new foreclosure filings were 36 in Cecil County, in comparison with 930 for Prince George’s County– the highest in the state– and 15 in Caroline County, the lowest.  Statewide, there were 30,661 new foreclosure filings since the beginning of the year.

   You can see a list with street names, but not actual house numbers, of Cecil County properties in pre-foreclosure or bank ownership. Click on the tabs at the top of the heading to look at pre-foreclosure, bank-owned, etc. The link is here:


Cecil Whig Cribs Cecil Times: A Day Late and Details Short

September 25, 2008

  The Cecil Whig posted on its website Wednesday afternoon a four-paragraph item on the Phyllis Kilby Board of Appeals story we’ve been covering since last week. We were very amused to see the Whig posted a headine, “BREAKING NEWS: Board Rules in Kilby’s favor,” at 1.28 p.m. on Wednesday 9/24/08. 

 The Cecil Times actually covered the meeting on Tuesday evening and posted a detailed report online on this blog around midnight. So some 13 plus hours later, the Whig weighs in with “breaking news” about a meeting they didn’t bother to cover in the first place.

  We’re sure someone at the Whig actually called the Board of Appeals and got the vote after they read our report online. So they did a little bit of reporting after-the-fact. We doubt they would have written anything if they hadn’t been beaten on the story in the first place. 

   It seems the Whig may be waking up to its increased competition from local bloggers and other news sources on the Internet. They also posted online a list of stories they were working on for their Thursday print editions. Anything we can do to prod the Whiggies to do a better job is fine with us.

  Here is link to Whig’s mini-story on the Board of Appeals action: