Chamber Forum: Commissioner Candidates Speak, Show Pictures

September 29, 2010

   The Cecil County Chamber of Commerce hosted a softball candidates’  forum Tuesday night,  with candidates for County Commissioner getting a chance to pitch their biographies and platforms without questions on issues. If pictures are worth a thousand words (or the four minutes of talk alloted to each speaker), then incumbent Commissioner Brian Lockhart (D-3) took the cake with his slide-show of ribbon cuttings for new or expanded businesses opened in the county on his watch.

  Lockhart, the current President of the county board, highlighted his participation in ribbon-cutting ceremonies for multiple businesses opened in the county since he won his seat in the 2006 election.  What he didn’t say was that some of the businesses had been courted by the county long before he took office.  However, he particularly mentioned the Monday “soft opening,” as the owners call it, of the new Hollywood Casino in Perryville, the state’s first slots facility.  That project, the result of a state-wide referendum on slots two years ago, did receive substantial support from the county on expedited permits and inspections that led to the early opening of a facility that has already created over 300 jobs.  The facility’s Penn National operators  have said that most of the jobs have gone to Cecil and Harford county residents.

   Lockhart. who owns two trash removal companies and is a board member of Cecil Bank,  said he went to the Monday “soft” opening of the slots facility and was pleased to meet so many Cecil County residents who have found jobs close to home. “It came at a great time,” he said of the revenues that the slots facility will bring to the county. He cited his experience as a small business owner to illustrate his commitment to support existing business in the county. “It makes me mad,” he said, when people only talk about incentives for new businesses. “We need to help the businesses already here,” he said, adding that he endorses a “buy local” agenda.

   His opponent, Michael Dunn (R) said the county “needs fresh ideas on the Board of Commissioners” and cited his “experience” working for Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) as a legislative aide. He said he had worked with his family in the hospitality industry. Dunn said his agenda was “lower taxes, less government spending” and “jobs” in the county. He said he had been active with community and Republican groups for over ten years and noted he had served a term on the county’s Republican Central Committee.

  “We need to adopt a new path,” Dunn said. He said the county must “eliminate waste” in spending and “lower taxes.”

   In the 4th District Commissioners race, Democrat Carl Roberts, who defeated incumbent Commissioner Wayne Tome in the recent Democratic primary, highlighted his “executive experience” as the former county Superintendent of Schools and cited his resume for bringing “effective leadership” to county government. Roberts emphasized his campaign theme that the county is too reliant on  residential property taxes–constituting 61 percent of the revenues used to support county government costs– and  he urged business expansion to “re-balance” the revenue funding mechanisms of  county government.

    Roberts mentioned the concerns of county voters he has met, using their first names, and how he would address their issues. Among them are concerns by farmers that they have been ignored since there are now no farmers on the county board. “Agriculture is the single biggest business” in the county, he said, and farmland constitutes the largest land use.  He pledged to listen to and address the concerns of the farm community.

   His Republican rival, Diana Broomell, cited her “grassroots background” as a GOP activist and land preservation advocate. “I’m a hard worker,” she said, citing her involvement with the 21st Century Republican Club and efforts to bring about an elected county school board.

   Broomell obliquely criticized Roberts, saying that a former Schools Superintendent testified in Annapolis for a ‘special taxing district’  bill that did not provide for “school funding provisions.”  ( At the time that legislation was pending in Annapolis, Broomell was employed as a legislative aide  to Del. Smigiel, who strongly opposed the legislation, which was nevertheless enacted by the General Assembly.) That legislative authority, which has yet to be used by Cecil County Commissioners, allows assessments of fees against developers whose projects would cost the county for additional services required by their projects.

   In the 2nd District Commissioners’ race, Democrat Earl  Piner, Sr., a longtime Elkton town commissioner and former school board member,  said his most important qualification for the Commissioner seat was his personal “integrity” and his dedication to listening to the community.  He cited his many family members, all graduates of county schools, as proof that he would listen to parents and educators to ensure the schools have the support they need.

  Piner said he would bring the concerns of local residents to the Commissioners’  Board: “I want your input so I can bring it to the table,” he said.

  His GOP opponent, Tari Moore, said she and Piner had agreed to wage a positive campaign.  But most of her presentation sounded like past Carl Roberts candidate appearances that focused on the need for a “strategic plan” for the county. (During the Tuesday forum, Roberts only briefly mentioned needs  for a  ‘strategic plan.’)  Moore cited her experience as former executive director for the county’s Chamber of Commerce and said she knew how to help bring business to the county. She said her top priority was to bring “infrastructure” to the county’s growth corridor between I95 and Route 40.

  [Cecil Times will file a separate report on the Chamber of Commerce candidates’ forum for state candidates for Delegate and state Senate.]


Republican Committee War: Pipkin-Smigiel Slate Wins Majority Seats

September 15, 2010

   The drama may just be beginning for the Cecil County Republican Central Committee as members of  different factions elected in Tuesday’s primary learn to co-exist– or not.

    The crowded field of candidates –22 people vying for 9 seats– and the war of words on various Internet bulletin boards and comment pages was a never-ending source of  local political entertainment– especially for Democrats– in this election season.

  With all 19 regular precincts reporting, a slate spearheaded by Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel, both R-36, appeared to have won control of the party committee. However, absentee and provisional ballots could alter the final outcome since some candidates were separated by just a handful of votes.  

   The current chairman of the committee, Joe Carabetta, barely hung on, coming in 9th place in the crowded field. Several other current members of the committee, including Robert Amato and Allen Andrichyn, finished out of the running.

 The campaign featured rival slates and feuds over whether a slate assembled by two state legislators had the right to call itself  ‘tea party tested, tea party approved,’ when some of its members boycotted a non-partisan candidates’ forum hosted by the local tea  party group. The local tea party group, as part of its nonpartisan stance, also declined to endorse any candidates in the election, including some of its own members who were running for seats on the GOP Central Committee.

   While several ‘tea party’ members ran for the GOP committee, only Ted Kolodzey gained a seat, finishing in seventh place with ,1,874 votes.

    The Pipkin-Smigiel slate largely consisted of candidates recruited from the Young Republicans Club that is linked to Pipkin-Smigiel. The YR members of the slate were: Mike Dawson, Michael Dunn, Theodore Patterson, Carrie Taylor and Chris Zeauskas,– all of whom won seats in Tuesday’s balloting. Another member of the slate, Joseph Tropp, an officer of the YR-related “Repbulicans of Cecil (ROC) club, lost.

    In addition, the Pipkin-Smigiel slate recruited two newer members of the current Central Committee– James Hutchinson and Brad Carrillo– to join the slate, as well as Pipkin-Smigiel loyalist James Mullin, the county Commissioner representing the 1st District. Hutchinson and Mullin won seats, but Carillo did not.

  That slate published ads and campaign materials claiming it was “tea party tested, tea party approved” and that set off a firestorm of protest from the local tea party organization, the Cecil County Patriots.

   So a counter-slate of “tea party” activists  challenged the Smigiel-Pipkin slate. The tea party slate included Donna Caudell, Jackie Gregory, Kolodzey, Peter Oliphant, Harry Hite III and F. Gaylord Moody III.  Another tea party activist, Tom Kenny, chose not to join the slate and ran an independent campaign. Only Kolodzey managed to grab a seat on the GOP committee.

     Oher independent candidates were Tina Sharp, who is well known in GOP circles and previously ran for county Court clerk; Devon Perry, a Towson University student; and Anneliese Johnson, a mother of three and a graduate student. All three failed to win a seat.

    The top vote getter was Zeauskas, with 3,083 votes. Carabetta’s 9th place spot was snared with 1,869 votes.


Cecil County Goes to the Polls

September 13, 2010

  In a previous life, we wrote or edited many of the “Maryland Goes to the Polls” front page articles in The Baltimore Sun on every election day. It was a guide to basic voting information, names and political affiliations of candidates,  and otherwise a chance for readers to take a deep breath and think about their  choices without a lot of last minute back and forth charges and counter-charges among candidates. That might seem like a quaint custom from the days before the Internet, Facebook, Twitter and instant news, and to some extent it is. Quaint, but valid.

  At this late stage, with voters heading to the polls in a few hours, it is time for individuals to make their own choices– without the Cecil Times reporting every second of every comment that has been swirling through cyberspace for the past 24 hours. And there have been a lot of things written or posted by people who may take two aspirin and regret it in the morning.

  We will, however, bring our readers up to date on two significant issues, with links to places where you can read more information and make your own judgments.

  –Former Gov. Robert Ehrlich appeared at a weekend fundraiser for incumbent Delegate Richard Sossi (R-36) to firmly reiterate his support for Sossi’s re-election. Sossi has been the victim of last-minute negative mailers and robo-calls, attributed to his primary opponent, Steve Hershey, and Sen. E.J. Pipkin. Cecil Times filed an updated report on the Sossi-Hershey race here:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/09/06/dist-36-sossi-melts-hershey-on-campaign-gop-primary-endorsement-tiff/ 

 Del. Sossi has posted about the matter on his Facebook pages here:    http://www.facebook.com/richard.sossi

–The hotly contested Democratic primary for Cecil County Sheriff has had a last-minute back and forth over responses to a questionnaire to candidates from the Cecil County Patriots group. In his responses, Chris Sutton discussed the costs of having deputies assigned to the public schools. There is much debate raging in cyberspace over whether the comments meant he would pull the deputies out of schools and put them on patrols or whether he meant the school board should come up with some funds to help pay for the costs. You can decide for yourself.

   The link to Sutton’s answers to the questionnaire is here:   http://api.ning.com/files/ooPRsqiJrtdgCSB8CWB6yD5Bk52un0owZfrZcWGrp1ldj79AsLgJ6T4MZBWI7diuE-HGQ-Oz6s7d5Y4qlL-68cSYgQsWNRyr/Patriot27s20question20responses1.pdf

 There is a raging debate on the matter on the unmoderated Topix bulletin board here:   http://www.topix.net/forum/county/cecil-md/TPAOITFFUE5J9IIV8

(For those readers unfamiliar with Topix, it is rough and tumble and people can post under any assumed name they choose. It is not for the faint of heart.)

  For voters looking for some last-minute information on the many candidates on Tuesday’s ballot, the Cecil County Patriots have compiled a non-partisan voter guide that includes videos of their two forums for County Commissioner candidates (one for Democrats and one for Republicans.) It adds up to four hours of videos that might be a bit much to take in all at one sitting, but here is the link to the Patriots’ candidate information page:  http://cecilcountypatriots.ning.com/page/candidate-info

  The Cecil Times also covered both Commissioners’ forums and our reports can be read here, for the Republicans:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/candidates-forum-civility-and-cliffs-notes-for-cecil-county-issues/  and here, for the Democrats:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/31/cecil-commissioners-forum-democrats-sing-from-different-songbooks/

   For the 36th District House of Delegates and state Senate races, Cecil Times covered the League of Women Voters candidates forum in Centreville and filed this report: 

https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/36th-district-candidates-forum-lots-of-me-too-and-a-surprise/

    You can also click on the Politics 2010 tab at the top of the Cecil Times homepage and find links to all our political coverage of the season, including our exclusive campaign finance reporting.

    We thank our many readers who have expressed their support for the original reporting Cecil TImes does on politics and local news issues, and which you won’t find elsewhere, either in newspapers or in the regular blogosphere.  We will be back Tuesday night with our election night reports.

   Until then, we will just say: exercise your right to VOTE, regardless of the candidates you choose. Remember, there are brave men and women serving our country overseas who will be voting by absentee ballots. Honor them by going to your local polling place on Tuesday.


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:

CHRIS SUTTON:

 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.

ROBERT “SKIP” DeWITT:

   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.

WILLIAM GERCZAK

  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:

BARRY JANNEY

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.

DAN SLATER

   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.

AL MICHAEL

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


4th Dist. Commissioners Race: Roberts Outspends Tome in Democratic Primary

September 8, 2010

   The Democratic primary for the 4th District county Commissioner’s seat is shaping up as one of the more expensive local campaigns of the year, with challenger Carl Roberts spending more than twice the campaign money of his opponent, incumbent Wayne Tome.

  Roberts, the former superintendent of  Cecil County schools, is trying to unseat Tome, who won the 4th District slot four years ago. Tome is a batallion chief with the Baltimore County fire department, a longtime volunteer firefighter and paramedic with local fire companies, and the former mayor of Port Deposit.

  Tome raised a total of $14,322 for his campaign and has spent $10,831, according to campaign finance reports filed through Sept. 3. His net cash on hand was $3,491. He had no loans to his campaign and financed his campaign out of current donations and fundraising events.

 During the same period, Roberts raised $33,068,  including $15,000 in personal loans to his campaign. He has spent $28,458, according to reports filed with the State Board of Elections. His remaining bank balance was $4,611.

   Roberts’ campaign spent a total of $15,000, in three installments paid in April, May and June, to Dyekman Design of Chesapeake City for design of his website and campaign materials as well as “social media” services. The firm is operated by Jim Dyekman and his wife, Linda, who is the chairman of Roberts’ campaign committee. (Printing costs were paid separately to other businesses and Roberts has sent out three flyers to Democrats in the county.)  The Roberts website is here: www.electcarlroberts.com

  Such a figure is unheard of for local candidates, most of whom have volunteers create their websites and Facebook pages or paid more modest fees to professionals. One of the most politically effective websites in this year’s campaign season has been that of Chris Sutton, a candidate in the Democratic primary for sheriff, who paid a total of  $2,025 to an Elkton firm for website design, technical set up and webhosting services, according to finance reports filed with the state Board of Elections.

  In an interview with Cecil Times, Roberts said that he loaned the money to his campaign to cover the website and related costs because he felt getting his message out, as a “rookie” in politics, was important and that Jim Dykeman did most of the work, not his campaign chairwoman.

   While Roberts may be a “rookie” at running for office, he is no stranger to local politics from his many years of dealing with the County Commissioners as the schools Superintendent. “I’m not a politician, but I am political,” he said.   Roberts said he “hates” to ask people for donations to a political campaign, especially in this tough economy. “I think that’s the hardest thing to do when you are running for office,” he said.

  Meanwhile, Tome has been active on Facebook and also has a website, www.waynetome.com .   In an interview with Cecil Times, Tome said volunteers created his website without charge. He also has not spent campaign funds on big ticket items like billboards. He is sending out some targeted flyers to registered Democrats.

   Roberts paid $4,046 to Apple Outdoor Advertising for design and rental of billboards.  He has several billboards in highly visible areas, especially along Route 40.

   Donations to both candidates show some large contributions from prominent entities doing business in the county.

   Tome received $1,000 from North Bay Charters and Seafood, of North East; $1,000 from Clark Turner, whose companies have been involved in the Bainbridge redevelopment project as well as the “Extreme Makeover” TV show that rebuilt a theraputic riding center;  and $1,000 from the Firefighters Political Action Committee in Cockeysville.

    Contributions linked to County Commissioner Brian Lockhart (D-3rd) were Tomes’ largest source of funds: $2,492.  Lockhart transferred $892 from his 2006 campaign account while Monterey Refuse Service, which is owned by Lockhart,  donated another $1,000 to Tome. And Cecil Bank, where Lockhart sits on the Board of Directors, provided another $400 plus $200 in fundraiser ticket purchases.

   Tome said that other executives at the bank pushed for ticket sales and that Lockhart closed out his old campaign committee when he thought he would not run again for commissioner. (Lockhart subsequently changed his mind and has created a new campaign committee for his re-election race this year.)

  Roberts joined the golf bandwagon that has been the ticket to major fundraising money for other candidates in the county.  His early September golf event has already brought in a substantial amount for his campaign, with the largest figure– $1,500– coming from NBRS bank for sponsorship of the event’s breakfast.  Roberts also received a donation of $1,000 from Robert “Chick” Hamm, the former President of Mercantile/County Bank who is now an executive with PNC Bank.

 Roberts had numerous smaller donations from residents of Harford County, where he worked in the school system before coming to the Cecil County schools. Roberts has also attracted a number of small donations from Republicans, as well as Democrats.

  Both Tome and Roberts each received $1,000 donations from what was listed as “Perryville Medical Center” with a York, Pa. address. The address is actually that of Stewart and Tate, a heavy construction firm that is also involved in building medical facilities and is part of the Stewart enterprises that are among the largest landowners in Cecil County, with various business parks and gravel mining operations in their portfolio.

  During the campaign, and at a face-to-face matchup at a  forum in North East, each candidate has highlighted his experience in public service in the county and addressed the pressing budget issues facing the local government.  Roberts has painted a dire portrait of the county’s current status and future while Tome has said the county is doing a good job of living within its means and not raising property taxes for recession-strapped homeowners this year. 

  “I think people need to hear the truth,” Roberts told Cecil Times.  He said his message– that the county must develop a “strategic plan” to cope with the impact of the recession– is being “well received”  by voters. And, despite being a veteran educator, he said he has received an “education” from voters in one-on-one conversations about the issues.

  Tome said Roberts was trying to appeal to volunteer fire companies– Tome’s strongest base of political support– with a letter to fire chiefs pledging support for the companies and their equipment needs. Tome cited his own track record of  ensuring that public safety needs in the county are met.  “I’m not just making a lot of campaign promises,” Tome said.

  The Democratic primary in District 4 is one of the most competitive local races on the Sept. 14 ballot. Neither candidate predicted victory, and each said they were not assuming anything or even looking ahead to the general election.

  The winner of the Democratic primary will face the winner of the Republican primary, which pits Diana Broomell against Michael A. Dawson. Broomell lost the 2006 election to Tome. Dawson is a newcomer to Cecil County and is affiliated with the “Young Republicans” faction that is fielding candidates in all Commissioner races this year. Dawson is also a candidate for the GOP Central Committee.

   Broomell has filed an affadavit with the state Board of Elections stating that she has not raised or spent over $1,000 on her campaign.

  Dawson has raised $4,725, including $2,500 from Jill Cappol of Wilmington, DE and $450 from the “Republicans of Cecil” club affilated with the Young Republicans. Dawson has spent $4,314, including $435 paid for his website design to Josue Sierra, another leader of the Young Republicans club.


Cecil County Republican Drama: Moving the Money Around and Around

September 7, 2010

  Our ongoing local political soap opera, centered on the crowded field of warring factions seeking seats on the Cecil County Republican Central Committee,  may have many observers wondering what all the fuss is about. But when you drill deeply into state campaign finance reports, it becomes clear that the fuss is about more than ideology, alliances, and political control. It’s also about money and who gets to decide how, and to whom, to dole out Republican campaign funds.

  At stake in the Sept. 14 Republican primary is not just which faction gets control of the party’s official arm in Cecil County, the  nine-seat Central Committee, but who  will control the Committee’s bank account.  In the most recent filings with the State Board of Elections, the county’s GOP Central Committee had $17,715 cash in the bank, which the committee can contribute to local Republican candidates for their campaigns, as well as fund-raise on behalf of GOP candidates.

 While  that might not seem like a lot of money, it becomes more significant in the context of a new and  evolving strategy by one faction– which is tied to Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) and Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36)– of moving Republican money around within various new entities, all of which have the same linkages and leaders. And the extent to which money has been moved around, especially in some cases of contested GOP primaries, shows that this is internecine political party warfare not seen in the county in a long time.

  A key aspect of the new strategy is to create or control various political “clubs,” which under state election laws do not have the same financial reporting requirements that an official county Central Committee or a candidate’s campaign has. In general, the clubs do not have to disclose how much money they have, where it came from, or what they do with it.  The only way to find out anything is when their donations to individual candidates or Political Action Committees show up on those candidates’ or PAC’s mandatory campaign finance reports, or when a candidate transfers funds from his/her campaign fund into the political club.

   You need a map to follow the intersecting paths in our drama, although the players in all are virtually identical. There are two key elements: the political clubs and the PACS, and, to a lesser extent, the “slates.”

  The “Young Republicans Club,” the “Republicans of Cecil (ROC)” club, and the Cecil County Republican Women’s Club are center stage in the drama. The YR group and the ROC group share a website, leadership, and fundamental alliance with Del. Smigiel and Sen. Pipkin. The Women’s Club, a venerable institution in the county for many years, was taken over earlier this year by a YR-er, Carrie Taylor. Taylor, the women’s club president, is running in a contested Republican primary for county Treasurer, against William Feehley, and she is also running for GOP Central Committee.

   Other linked entities are the “Republicans of Cecil Fiscal Conservative Team Slate,” which includes Smigiel and Pipkin explicitly and their annointed candidates for GOP Central Committee, plus Jay Jacobs, a Kent Countian who is running for the open delegate seat formerly held by the retiring Mary Roe Walkup. (Jacobs got $200 from  the “Republicans of Cecil”  on Aug.  28, state records show.)The slate includes County Commissioner Jim Mullin (R-1st Dist.),  a longtime Smigiel-Pipkin ally who is running for the GOP Central Committee.

[UPDATE:   Del. Smigiel got the ball rolling when he transferred $500 from his own campaign account to the “Republicans of Cecil” on July 16, according to reports filed with the state. That fund transfer to the club helped prop up the money pot that the club could in turn move around through a PAC and other entities.]

A starring role is being played by the Republicans of Cecil PAC, (ROC PAC) which received $1,500 from the ROC Club on Aug.9 and $1,200 from the Women’s Club on Aug 13– and Lo and Behold, $2,000 from Commissioner Mullin, through his Mullin Appraisal Service business, on Aug. 13.  Mullin has been a major bankroller of some of the YR campaigns, notably Chris Zeauskas, who is running in a contested primary for the GOP nomination for County Commissioner in District 2 as well as the party’s central committee. (See our previous article on the Mullin-Zeauskas financial connection here:     https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/cecil-commissioner-race-mullin-bankrolls-zeauskas/     )

  With that cash in hand, the ROC PAC turned around and transferred $450 to Carrie Taylor’s campaign in two installments in August.  Follow the money: Taylor heads the Women’s Club, which gives money from its treasury to the ROC PAC and then ROC PAC turns around and gives money to her individual campaign fund. Perhaps it would have been too obvious if she got the Women’s Club she heads to donate money directly to her campaign. Under party policy, such clubs are not supposed to donate to individual candidates before a contested primary has been decided. And Taylor IS in a contested GOP primary for Treasurer.

   (In the past election cycle, the Women’s Club made its largest donation, $600, directly to the county Central Committee, state records show. The Club also donated $500 each post-primary to two female Republican candidates, Delegate Walkup and Sheryl Davis-Kohl’s delegate race.)

   Under current state campaign finance rules, there is no clear way of knowing who is donating to the Women’s Club– or the ROC Club, or the YR Club– or how much money is in each club’s bank account.  Only if a declared candidate transfers money from his/her own campaign fund would a donation to the  club show up. And spending by the club would only show up by pouring through a lot of individual  candidate’s reports to see where their donations came from. But the Women’s Club’s hefty donations to the ROC PAC showed up on that PAC’s report.

  In case there was any doubt about loyalties, the ROC PAC also  gave $200 to Sen. Pipkin’s campaign fund on Aug. 24.  And ROC PAC is listed as giving $100 to Del. Smigiel on Aug. 28, with “Republicans of Cecil” donating another $100 to Smigiel on June 24, according to state Election Board records.

ROC PAC also gave $500 to Michael Dunn, who works for Smigiel in his legislative office, on Aug. 19. Dunn is in a multi-candidate contested GOP primary for County Commissioner in Dist. 3.  Another YR-er, Mike Dawson, got $450 on Aug.23.

 With the exception of donations to Pipkin and Smigiel, every one of the ROC PAC’s donations went to people who are running for the county GOP Central Committee, as well as some other local or state office. The political cleverness of the strategy of running for central committee along with another office is that one candidate campaign committee can pay for printing yard signs to get your name out there for both positions.

  ROC PAC deposited its largest donation so far– $1,000– into the campaign fund of YR President Ted Patterson, who is running for the House seat now held by Democrat David Rudolph. Patterson also got some direct money from the Women’s Club (thank you, Ms. Taylor) with a $400 contribution from that club’s funds on Aug. 13. Patterson is also running for a seat on the GOP Central Committee. Conveniently, the treasurer of the ROC PAC is Jillian Patterson, his wife.

  Yes, Dear Readers, we know your head is spinning from all these numbers and interlocking relationships. Take a deep breath, print this news article out, and read it again in the morning. It will all become oh so clear.


Cecil Commissioners’ Forum: Democrats Sing from Different Songbooks

August 31, 2010

   It was the Democrats’ turn to face off at a forum for county Commissioner candidates Monday night, with 4th District primary opponents Carl Roberts and Wayne Tome offering strikingly different assessments of the state of the county and its future.

  But it was Commissioner Brian Lockhart, D-3, who is unopposed in his party’s primary, who offered the biggest surprise of the night. First, that he appeared at the forum, sponsored by the Cecil County Patriots (the local arm of the “tea party” movement) and second, that he said the commissioners are considering privatization of other county-owned assets and services, beyond the pending sale of certain county water and sewer operations to the private Artesian company. In a post-forum interview with Cecil Times, Lockhart said the commissioners are considering privatization of landfill and jail operations.

   Also speaking at the forum was Earl Piner, Sr., who is unopposed in his party’s primary for the Dist. 2 commissioner seat. Piner was a long-time Elkton town commissioner, a former county school board member, and a coach of sports teams at Cecil College and in local youth programs.

   The Patriots’ group again enlisted a moderator from the non-partisan Toastmasters’ International organization who read a list of questions, drafted with input from county residents who responded to a request for suggested questions for the candidates. In the contested primary race, Roberts and Tome appeared together to answer questions and were able to respond to each other, while Piner and Lockhart each appeared alone. All candidates appeared together at the end of the two hour program to offer closing statements.

    The Patriots’ group held a separate forum several weeks ago for Republican commissioner candidates, although three candidates affiliated with the “Young Republicans Club” boycotted the event. Read the Cecil Times report here:   https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/candidates-forum-civility-and-cliffs-notes-for-cecil-county-issues/

   During Monday’s forum,  there was a glass half-empty, glass half-full disparity between Roberts, the former superintendent of county schools, and Tome, a Baltimore County professional firefighter manager and the former mayor of Port Deposit who was elected to the county board four years ago.

  Roberts outlined his assessment of the dire state of the county’s economy and its over-reliance on residential property taxes for revenues. He warned that next year’s budget would be even more difficult than this year’s since property assessements by the state have been reduced due to falling home prices, and the county will be hard-pressed to come up with the revenues needed to pay for essential services.

   “We need to dramaticallty change he way we govern, the way we lead,” Roberts said. He called for creation of a detailed “strategic plan”  to provide a roadmap for dealing with the current recession but also to  create a framework for business and economic development to fundamentally change the way the county obains the revenues it needs to support public services. “We’re late, we’re behind the eight-ball,” Roberts said, and the current reliance on residential property taxes to supply 61 percent of revenues should be downsized to about 55 percent.

   Tome said the county was “doing well with economic development” despite the recession. He said the current commissioners had worked hard to find solutions to the need for infrastructure in the growth corridor, between I-95 and Route 40, and the Artisian sale would finally bring utilities to the area without costing taxpayers. He noted that the county was also poised to put in place agreements to provide infrastructure to serve the long-stalled Bainbridge project in the northwestern part of the county and also a franchise agreement with a Delaware firm to bring natural gas services to the growth area.

    “The records speaks for itself,” Tome said. “I’m here asking for four more years.”

     Tome said state and federal aid, possibly through homeland security programs, could ease the county’s fiscal problems and to help get the long-stalled Bainbridge project on track. He also said the anticipated revenues of $3 million in the current fiscal year from the new slots parlor in Perryville could  be used to “finesse” the county’s budget  problems.

     But Roberts shot back, “Nobody’s going to bail us out…there’s no federal dollars coming, no state money coming” and the county must “solve our own problems.”

      At one point, Roberts took a shot at himself, saying he had heard critics say he should “smile more.”  So he smiled. “I do laugh, I do smile, I do have a sense of humor,” he said. And if people think he is “not collaborative” with others, then they should talk with the many county business groups he worked with over the years to develop partnerships for educational programs.

     Meanwhile, Lockhart, who is seeking re-election to his second term on the board, defended the planned sale of county water and sewer facilities to Artesian, a deal that is currently under challenge in a lawsuit brought by a citizens’ group.  And he said the county would continue to “pursue privatization of other assets that the county government has.” He said the county has to keep cutting expenses and “we’re going to continue to cut taxes.” (This year, the county cut the property tax rate to the so-called “constant yield” rate, which means the county must live with the same amount of revenues as it had in the previous budget year.)

    After the forum, Lockhart told Cecil Times that he wants to see the county jail turned over to a private contractor. The county just broke ground on a multi-million dollar expansion and modernization of the jail. He said the county would own the facility but hire a private contractor to run it and hire its own employees to guard inmates.

    He also called for privatization of county landfill operations. County commissioners came under fire from citizens this year after imposing a new recycling fee and higher trash drop-off  fees, as well as sharply reduced hours of operation at the landfill and two county trash transfer stations.

     Lockhart’s appearance at the Patriots’ forum, held at the VFW hall in North East, was his first question-and-answer candidates forum appearance since he first ran for office four years ago.  He has stayed away from organized forums in the past, saying he preferred one-on-one contacts with individual voters.

     Piner emphasized his involvement with the community during his comments at Monday’s forum, saying he could sit down and work with disparate groups and hammer out a compromise solution. He also refused to “guarantee” that taxes would not be raised on his watch. “I hope not to raise taxes,” he said, but the local economy is “going into a dive” and new sources of revenue must be found, especially through business development.


Teaser: Campaign Finance Reports Tell Some Tales

August 18, 2010

  We know our readers look forward to Cecil Times reports and analysis of local candidates’ campaign finance reports and we are hard at work on searching and reviewing the latest pre-primary reports that were due to be filed with the state Board of Elections this week. The state Board and the computer databases have been swamped and the reports of some important candidates who have filed are not yet available online. We will be doing detailed reports in all key races in the county and District 36 state contests in the course of the next few days.

  But we thought we’d tantalize you with a few nuggets, to be mined more fully later.

Sheriff’s Race:

— Incumbent Republican Barry Janney is, as usual, well-financed but his campaign pockets are nowhere near as full as in past campaigns when he had far less competition. He has raised nearly $21,000 so far this year, adding on to a carry-over balance from 2009 of  $26,877. After expenses, he has $19,337 left in cash on hand to carry him through his contested Republican primary.

–GOP challenger Dan Slater gets the gold star for most improved fundraising, expanding his reach to southern Cecil County with a Crystal Beach barbecue and other events. His latest report shows he raised $7,805 since January. He began the year with a cash balance of $1,151 but after expenses, he is just about tapped out. He has just $69.01 cash in the bank.

–Democratic candidate Robert “Skip” DeWitt has made a strong showing after entering the primary late in the game, after rival Chris Sutton had been fundraising for over a year.  DeWitt has raised $7,275, and after expenses still has $2,230 cash on hand.

  Sutton’s report has been filed but was not yet available online.

In other races:

–County Commissioner Brian Lockhart (D-3) is a major bankroller of Democratic Commissioner Wayne Tome’s campaign for re-election in Dist. 4.

–Wonder of wonders, Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) has actually filed his latest finance report on time! He has been levied late fee fines repeatedly in the past by the State Elections Board, in one case for filing well over a year late. This year,  Smigiel has had to rely heavily on personal loans to his campaign as well as some political action committees and out-of-district donors.

We’ll be back with much more, soon. But first we have some unfinished business, following up on the League of Women Voters candidate forum from Tuesday night.


Candidates’ Forum: Civility and Cliff’s Notes for Cecil County Issues

August 5, 2010

  The first local candidates’ forum this week highlighted several hot-button Cecil County issues, and personalities, but the 100 or so people who attended the “Cecil County Patriots” forum for Republican county commissioner candidates heard some thoughtful observations,  politely expressed, as well as the (we admit it) headline-grabbing political outburst by one candidate.

   As The Cecil Times reported here within two hours of the forum’s conclusion Monday night, ( https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/kolodzey-blasts-pipkin-smigiel-they-will-destroy-this-county/ ) political newcomer Ted Kolodzey lashed out at the powerful GOP State Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del.  Michael Smigiel, both R-36th District.  Three  political allies of the duo,  commissioner candidates from the Cecil Young Republicans Club, boycotted the forum sponsored by the local affiliate of the “tea party” movement.

   But apart from the brief moments of drama from one candidate, attendees were given a polite, almost academic discussion of a handful of issues, with each candidate given ample opportunity and time to respond to other candidates and to make a closing statement at the end of the evening. The forum was moderated by a member of Toastmasters’ International, who simply read questions and monitored times for responses but did not interject into the candidates’ statements.

   Some absentees from the forum have been attacking the event as some sort of a lynch mob, but for anyone present at the VFW hall in North East, nothing could be farther from the reality of the event.  Regardless of one’s agreement or disagreement with the “tea party” movement or the local group, the forum could not be characterized as anything but fair to all the candidates and raising issues of general interest in the county. There was no shouting, no catcalls and only some polite applause as each panel of candidates concluded their presentations.

   That said, some of the candidates had in depth knowledge, some had one-note responses on a variety of local issues and others had just a glancing familiarity with some basic points. So here is our report on the highlights of the issues and the candidates’ comments, with a few Cliff’s Notes for background.

    1. Artesian Water takeover of county water/sewer facilities: (County Commissioners sold county-owned water and sewage treatment plants to the private Artesian operation in what was touted as a way to get private funding for expansion of infrastructure in the I-95-Rt. 40 growth corridor. The sale is currently under court challenge.)

     Tari Moore, candidate for the GOP nomination in District 2, said that “aging” systems were a cost to the county and it was better to have them “sold” to “professionals” who could operate them properly. “I think it was a wise decision,” she said. Diana Broomell, a candidate for the Republican nomination in District 4, agreed with Moore’s assertion that “aging” systems were a burden on the county and better off sold to private interests.  Kolodzey, seeking the GOP nomination in District 3, said he favored privatization of many government services: “I support anytime anything goes private.”

    But former Commissioner Harry Hepbron, seeking his old District 3 seat, questioned the decision made after he left the board to sell the water and sewer facilities to private interests. He cited upgrades to county facilities during his tenure on the board and challenged the assertion that the county was unloading “aging” and deficient facilities. Since Artesian is a private profit-making company, citizens will clearly face higher user fees to allow the company to make profits, he said. Furthermore, by giving up water and sewer lines, the county has no power over where new lines go and loses its ability to direct infrastructure to the growth corridor. He said a better option might have been keeping county control over lines but outsourcing operation of water/sewer plants.

2. Revenue Growth, Spending Cuts– Moore said it was “absolutely critical” to promote economic development but also key to reduce “wasteful spending” by county government. Kolodzey said there should be significant spending cuts in county government and “they have to be forced.” Broomell cited her work organizing several “tea party” events last year as proof of her commitment to cutting spending by government and said the county budget should “start at zero” each year.

    Hepbron advocated a balanced approach, calling for expansion of the revenue base through incentives to business to locate in the county and create jobs for local residents as well as “in house” efficiencies and cost-savings. He cited his role as a commissioner in promoting “green power” to recapture gases from the county landfill that could be used as energy sources for the county to cut costs as well as selling energy to business as a new revenue source.

3. Economic Development/Jobs– (The current county budget cut spending for economic growth initiatives. Recent reports show most of the BRAC economic development, due to expansion of operations at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, is going to  job creation in Harford County.)

   Kolodzey said it was a “chicken and the egg” proposition and that cutting county taxes was top priority: “You need to do that (cut taxes) first and jobs will come second.” Hepbron said that “new jobs mean new revenues” for the county so that there is less reliance on property taxes to fund the county budget. He cited his experience  as a Commissioner to lure large businesses to the county with incentives, due to competition from nearby states, and that such incentives pay off in the long run through increased revenues and job creation.

    Broomell said that local employers and Cecil College should work together to promote job skills needed by business. She also said she was concerned that “we allow franchises to come in and undercut local business…the Super Wal-Mart’s are very detrimental to our local businesses.” Moore said that the county’s economic development office had brought in more new jobs than were lost due to the recession. She said the county needs to more aggressively seek BRAC-related jobs and economic development.

4. Charter Government– (Voters will decide on the November ballot whether to approve a change from commissioners to charter government, with a highly compensated, elected county executive in charge of most day to day decisions with a lower-paid, no benefits panel of county council members acting as reviewers of county executive actions.)

  Most of the candidates opposed charter government, with some saying it would cost taxpayers more money. Broomell said she favored “code home rule,” which would keep the current 5-member commissioners’ panel without a county executive, because code home rule provides more independence from Annapolis than either the current 5-member Commissioners form of government or the proposed charter government. (But code home rule is not on the ballot for voters to consider, only a yes or no vote on whether to adopt a charter form of government.)

  Kolodzey also opposed charter, saying he favored the commissioner form of government. “It will cost more and not be more efficient,” he said of charter government. Moore said that it was “more important who we elect” than the form of government. She said there needed to be more long-range planning for the future of the county.

  Hepbron cited his experience under the old three-member commissioners board, where there could be compromises reached after back-and-forth discussions, versus the newer five-member, staggered terms board. He said the current system led to stalemate, with two or three members always running for re-election and unwilling to make tough decisions.  In contrast to this system, he said he would favor charter government. But he also indicated he would be comfortable with an enhanced-powers five-member board, such as would be provided under code home rule form of government.

   The Cecil County Patriots will host another candidates forum later this month for Democratic candidates for County Commissioner.


Kolodzey Blasts Pipkin, Smigiel: “They Will Destroy This County”

August 2, 2010

  A Republican political newcomer lashed out at State Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-36) and Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) Monday night, telling a candidates’ forum sponsored by the local “tea party” group that the duo was trying to stage a take-over of county politics and government and “They will destroy this county.”

  The sharp outburst by Ted Kolodzey, a candidate for the Republican nomination for county Commissioner in District 3, came near the end of the two-hour forum, which was boycotted by three “Young Republican Club” members who are running for Commissioner seats and are aligned with Pipkin and Smigiel. Forum organizers placed three empty chairs at the candidates’ table  with cards bearing their names: Chris Zeauskas, Michael Dunn and Michael Dawson.

  Kolodzey’s accusations came in response to a question about whether he supported the actions by “members of the state delegation” seeking to force the county commissioners to accept collective bargaining with binding arbitration on behalf of Sheriff’s deputies.

  “They only help themselves and that’s all they care about,” he said of Pipkin and Smigiel. “I saw what they were doing, financially, and I had to leave them,” he said. “They’re only fighting for their own interests,” he said, adding, “It’s a disgrace” and “someone has to stand up to them.”

   In an interview with The Cecil Times after the debate, at the VFW hall in North East, Kolodzey said that the Pipkin-Smigiel camp had told him, “If you support what we support we will finance your campaign.” He said no specific figure was mentioned. “But I left them… I can’t be a puppet,” Kolodzey said. He said the Pipkin-Smigiel camp has created and/or supported several Republican groups with different names but which are all “fronts for their agenda.”

   As The Cecil Times reported earlier in the day here, https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/as-the-gop-central-committee-turns-new-drama-unfolds-online/ a “Young Republican”-led slate–dubbed the “Cecil County Republican Fiscal Conservative Central Committee Team” has been created to try to take over the county’s Republican Central Committee in this year’s elections. The Young Republicans Club (YR) is closely aligned with Pipkin-Smigiel and the YR website also hosts a relatively “new” group called “Republicans of Cecil” (ROC) that has overlapping members and leaders with the YR group.

   Kolodzey, of Rising Sun, had initially been aligned with the YR-ers but turned away from the group and has been active in “tea party” activities led by the Cecil County Patriots, which hosted Monday night’s forum for Republican Commissioner candidates. A separate forum for Democratic candidates will be held in a few weeks.

   Donna Caudell, leader of the local Patriots group, said of the YR no-shows at the forum: “I think it’s unfair that they want to represent the people but they don’t want to face the people and answer their questions.”

   Ron Lobos, another leader of the group, said that Dawson and Zeauskas declined their invitation and Dunn, a legislative aide to Del. Smigiel, sent an email a few hours before the event “backing out of the debate.” Lobos congratulated those candidates who did show up for having the “guts” to attend. “If you want to serve the people, you should be strong enough in character to face the people,” he said.

   Kolodzey’s leading opponent in the GOP primary for commissioner, Harry Hepbron, got in a few shots of his own at the state delegation, without mentioning individuals by name, during the forum. “A Commissioner’s job is to represent all the citizens of the county and I don’t think the delegation should have done what they have done.” He added that “I do have a problem when the delegation takes the side of a small group of people” and tries to impose legislation on the Commissioners.  Hepbron served two terms as a county commissioner, until 2006, and is seeking to re-gain his old seat on the board.

   But Pipkin-Smigiel had one defender in the group of candidates: Diana Broomell, former legislative aide to Smigiel and a current candidate for the GOP nomination for Commissioner from District 4. “I don’t  think the state delegation are that big and bad as some people have made them out to be,” she said, adding that she thought the  state delegation functions as “checks and balances” on the county Commissioners.

[The Cecil Times will file a separate report later on other issues raised in the candidates’  forum]