36th Dist. Senate Surprise: Mumford Beats Alt in Democratic Primary

September 15, 2010

 It was the “Huckleberry Finn” candidate versus the mayor and Huck won in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in the 36th District Senate race. Steve Mumford, an actor and dancer from Kent County and one of the most unusual candidates in Shore politics, defeated former Elkton mayor Robert Alt.

   Mumford has described himself as the “Huckleberry Finn” candidate, wearing a colonial tri-corner hat in an Earleville  parade and visiting the homeless at a shelter in Elkton. But he also displayed solid knowledge of local issues, especially those affecting Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. He exceeded expectations in a candidates debate in Centreville, as the Cecil Times reported here:   https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/36th-district-candidates-forum-lots-of-me-too-and-a-surprise/

  Across the district, Mumford won 3,873 votes to Alt’s 3,438, with the margin going to Mumford with 53 percent to Alt’s 47 percent. Absentee and provisional votes will be counted later but Mumford’s lead seems likely to hold.    

  In vote tallies from all precincts in the four-county district, Mumford carried his home base in Kent County with 1,215, to Alt’s 466 votes.  Key to his victory was his strong showing in Queen Anne’s County, where he won 1,531, to 833 votes for Alt.  In the small section of Caroline County included in the district, Mumford won 354 votes to Alt’s 248.

     Alt scored his only victory in his home base of Cecil County, with 1,891 votes to Mumford’s 773.

    Mumford will face  wealthy incumbent Republican E.J. Pipkin in the general election. Mumford ran his primary contest on a shoestring, filing affadavits that he had spent less than $1,000 on his campaign.

    But Mumford, who comes from a well-connected  Kent County political family, has surprised political professionals before and he should provide one of the more entertaining campaigns of the season.

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1st Dist. Congress Race: Harris Outraises Kratovil, but Incumbent has More Cash

September 3, 2010

( By Guest Blogger: Lou Peck, Contributing Editor, CongressDaily)

Seeking a rematch against Democratic Rep. Frank Kratovil this year, Republican state Sen. Andrew Harris outraised the incumbent during July and August – but Kratovil still has more money in his campaign treasury, according to campaign finance reports filed in advance of the Sept. 14 Maryland primary.

According to reports filed late Thursday with the Federal Election Commission, Harris raised just over $172,000 in contributions during the period from July 1 through Aug. 25, in comparison with about $134,000 for Kratovil. In addition to the contributions, Harris loaned his campaign $20,000 during the latest reporting period.

But Kratovil – who narrowly defeated Harris in the 1st District in 2008 and is considered one of the nation’s most vulnerable members of Congress in this year’s election — had almost $1.35 million in the bank as of the end of the filing period,  in contrast to about $945,000 for Harris.

Businessman Rob Fisher, who is opposing Harris in this month’s GOP primary, reported just $410 in contributions during the latest filing period. But Fisher reported spending almost $219,000 during July and August, while Harris spent $145,000 on his campaign.

Fisher is largely self-funding his campaign: He has invested $475,000 of his own money to date, including a $60,000 loan during the latest filing period. He had about $80,000 in his campaign treasury as of the Aug. 25 filing deadline.

Fisher, widely seen as an underdog in the primary race, tried to raise his visibility with an ad that ran on Baltimore TV stations throughout much of August. Harris, apparently conserving his resources for the general election, has yet to run broadcast TV advertising.

Kratovil, who is unopposed in the Sept. 14 Democratic primary, went on television this week with a widely noticed ad that downplays both his status as a Democrat and an incumbent legislator. Lettering that appears at the bottom of the screen identifies him as a “former Eastern Shore prosecutor” rather than a member of Congress. He also boasts of having voted against healthcare reform legislation that President Obama and Democratic congressional leaders regard as their signature achievement over the past two years.

Throughout the current 2009-2010 election cycle, Harris has raised a total of $1.65 million, which is approximately $250,000 less than the $1.9 million taken in by the Kratovil campaign.

In terms of outside donations, Harris reports that about 85 percent of his funds have come from individual contributors, with the balance coming from political action committees, or PACs. Kratovil, on the other hand, has raised a slight majority of his donations during this election cycle – 53 percent – from PACs and other political committees.

In a dig at Kratovil’s fundraising patterns, Harris declared in a press release: “Maryland’s First District is ready for a new Congressman, one who doesn’t receive most of his money from inside the Beltway special interests.”

But while he is drawing primarily on individual donors, Harris is relying heavily on out- of- state fundraising from one group – his fellow anesthesiologists.

Harris, a physician by profession, is an anesthesiologist associated with the Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore and in the past year has worked part-time at the hospital in Salisbury, on the Shore. He received just under $124,000 in itemized individual contributions during the latest reporting period, and at least 20 percent of this money — $24,172 – came from non-Maryland residents who are physicians, with most of the donors in that group identifying themselves as anesthesiologists.

In addition, a national committee representing anesthesiologists has begun broadcasting ads for Harris on Baltimore radio stations.

Meanwhile, several Cecil County residents contributed to Harris during July and August. E. Ralph Hostetter of North East, retired publisher of the Cecil Whig, donated $1,000; Carol Hunter, of Rising Sun, whose family owns the well known auction barn, $250; and real estate broker Patrick Ulrich of Elkton, $20 (Ulrich has donated a total of $800 to Harris in the course of the campaign).

Also, David K. Williams of Chesapeake City – who operates the Williams Family Auto Mall – donated $500, while another family member, Nancy Williams of Elkton, gave $1,000.

Kratovil received $100 from Charlestown Mayor Robert Gell, the retired president of Cecil College; $100 from Jobeth Bowers of North East, a law office employee who is currently a candidate for Cecil County’s Democratic Central Committee; and $50 from Sue Fuhrmann, an Elkton-based retiree.

One well-known Maryland name on Kratovil’s latest list of donors is Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, a wealthy Baltimore attorney,who gave $2,300.


Sheriff’s Race: Skip DeWitt Runs Slow but Steady, with $ in the Bank

August 30, 2010

   Robert “Skip” DeWitt has been running a low-key, door-to-door campaign for the Democratic nomination for Cecil County Sheriff and his campaign fund-raising and spending reflects a back-to-basics style. Some donors may be hedging their bets on his prospects in the primary against his much better-financed rival, Chris Sutton.

    DeWitt was a late entrant into the Democratic primary campaign, while Sutton has been officially campaigning for more than a year. DeWitt’s recent campaign finance report to the state Board of Elections shows he has raised $7,275 and spent $5,044, leaving him with  $2,231 cash on hand. That’s a lot more than Sutton had in the bank– just $24– according to his campaign report,  despite the fact that Sutton has raised a total of $66,129 for his campaign.

 [The Cecil Times will be posting  a separate report on Sutton’s campaign finance filings.]

   DeWitt’s spending report reflects the style of his campaign: just printing for yard signs, a dozen campaign shirts for volunteers, and the costs of a modest pit beef fundraiser. He has spent a total of $5,044. No billboards and just one small newspaper ad to promote his fundraiser. In the final few weeks before the Sept. 14 primary, DeWitt could tap into his bank balance for some last-minute signs or ads.

   DeWitt has received $4,775 in direct contributions and earned $2,500 from purchases of fundraiser tickets. He received two large donations of $1,000 each from Fay Weaver of Elkton and Larry Dales, of Naples, Fla. Weaver is the president of Weaver’s Liquors on Route 40 and in the past has given small donations to other Democratic candidates. We found no local connection for Dales, just a picture of him visiting a Florida tribal casino as a customer that was published in a Florida newspaper.

  [UPDATE: DeWitt told The Cecil Times that Dales was the chief deputy to his father, the late Jack DeWitt, who served for many years as Cecil County sheriff. “He’s an old family friend and we have stayed in touch over the years,” DeWitt said.]

  DeWitt’s fundraising includes mostly small donations  and ticket purchases from individuals and local businesses.

  But we found an interesting both sides donation. DeWitt received $200 from Real Trust Associates, of North East. That real estate firm is owned by Norm Wehner, who is well-known in local Republican and realty circles, and his wife.  But Norm Wehner also personally donated a total of $200 to incumbent Republican Sheriff Barry Janney in this election season. Wehner has routinely contributed to local Republican candidates in past elections but state records show no  previous donations to Democrats.

  UPDATE: DeWitt told Cecil Times that he and Wehner have been friends for about 25 years and that “he believes in me and in my plans for the Sheriff’s Department.”  DeWitt added that he expected he would receive “many more donations from Republicans” after the primary.]

For DeWitt, the primary is make-or-break and most political pundits would urge him to pour his remaining campaign funds into the final days of the primary contest, with the expectation that if he were to score an upset in the primary, donors would come out of the woodwork to support him in a general election contest.

 But DeWitt has been running his own style of campaigning, following in the footsteps of his late father, who used to take his son on the campaign trail and focused on making a personal connection with voters.  DeWitt has been going door-to-door with family members, covering a wide swath of the county with personal contacts. But in a concession to the modern era, Dewitt has established a campaign website, www.dewittforsheriff.com that reflects his modest campaign style and he is also on Facebook.

[UPDATE: DeWitt said that last weekend he knocked on over 500 doors in the county and is averaging 100 or so homes a night. “I’ve already worn through one pair of sneakers,” he said with a laugh.

   He said he is deliberately holding back some of his campaign funds for a general election campaign and has already paid for most of his advertising that will be printed through the primary. “The day after I win the primary, I’m going to be ready to go forward,” he said. “I’m looking for victory in November.”]


Sheriff’s Race: Slater Picks up the Pace; Latecomers Penniless

August 27, 2010

  Dan Slater, a candidate for Cecil County Sheriff in the Republican primary,  picked up the pace of his fundraising and broadened his financial appeal to voters throughout the county in recent months. But going into the Sept. 14 primary, his campaign is all but broke and poorly positioned for a general election campaign.

  Slater is the leading Republican primary challenger to incumbent Sheriff Barry Janney, who in the past has raised up to six figures in his  well-funded campaigns.

  Slater got an early start on his uphill battle last year and in January filed his first campaign finance report. As  The Cecil Times reported in January here: https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/slater-for-cecil-county-sheriff-gop-challenger-is-poor/ Slater’s initial fundraising report showed he had concentrated his fundraising efforts in his North East area homebase. He raised a total of $5,965 but spent $4,813, leaving him with nearly $1,152 in the bank.

  In his latest campaign report, Slater has picked up the pace, and geography, of his campaign fundraising. Since January, he raised $7,805, including $3,435 in direct contributions and $4,370 in tickets sold to fundraising events. 

 Among his events were a barbeque held in Crystal Beach, in the southern Cecil County community of Earleville. That event scored him some political points, if not a big cash benefit, since southern Cecil residents often feel slighted by candidates running countywide.    Slater also held a bullroast at the Wellwood in Charlestown and raffled off a shotgun to raise money for his campaign.

  The largest donor to the Slater campaign is RKB Investments, LLC,  of Rising Sun. The business entity donated $200 in July, after previously donating $1,000 to the campaign as listed in Slater’s January report to the State Board of Elections. Slater also received a $500 donation from PEPCO, Inc., listed at a Water St., Charlestown address; and $200 from AMNF, Inc., of Elkton.

Slater has had a solid presence around the county with yard signs and larger signs along key highways. But that presence doesn’t come without a price.  In his latest financial statement, he reported spending $8,887 on printing, campaign materials and the costs of putting on fundraising events.

As a result, Slater has just $69.01 in the bank. That figure, about the cost of a full tank of gas in an SUV, gives him nothing to fall back on for a general election campaign against a Democrat if he were to pull off an upset victory in the GOP primary. The late primary this year gives candidates little time to reinvigorate their campaign accounts before the November general election.

 The winner of the Republican primary for Sheriff will face the winner of the Democratic primary in November. The leading candidates in the Democratic primary are Chris Sutton– a corporal in the Sheriff’s Department who ran unsuccessfully against Janney in the general election four years ago– and Robert “Skip” DeWitt, a longtime deputy and the son of the late Jack DeWitt, the widely popular Sheriff of the county for many years.

  Among other lesser-known candidates, campaign funds are short to non-existant.

 Al Michael, of North East, a former state trooper and former police chief in Rising Sun, was a late entrant into the Republican primary but has been raising his profile a bit by peppering the county with a single-spaced letter outlining his views on the issues and he appeared at a public candidate’s forum. His bare-bones campaign has been largely self-financed, with $1,911 out of his pocket to pay for signs, printing and ads. He did hold a fundraiser with $1,320 in tickets sold, but expenses of his fundraiser, at the Nauti-Goose, almost equaled the funds raised from ticket sales. So after raising $3,231, and spending $3,011, he has a cash balance of just $220 in the bank.

  The last candidate to file for Sheriff, William T. Gerczak, a Democrat from Rising Sun, filed an affadavit stating that he had not raised or spent over $1,000 on his campaign. Gerczak, a former Baltimore city police officer, filed a few hours before the July 6 deadline. There has been much speculation whether his candidacy was put forward as a “spoiler” to split opposition to Sutton in the Democratic primary and draw votes away from DeWitt, who has emerged as a strong challenger to Sutton in the primary.

Cecil Times will be posting separate articles on the Janney, Sutton and DeWitt campaigns in upcoming days. For Janney’s and Sutton’s reports, we needed to go out and buy new ink cartridges for our computer printer and are thinking of adding arm lifts of their weighty reports to our exercise routine.


36th District Candidates’ Forum: Lots of “Me, too” and a Surprise

August 19, 2010

CENTREVILLE– Candidates for the 36th District state House of Delegates and Senate seats squared off Tuesday night in a non-partisan issues forum here, with most Republican candidates saying the same things, in the same words, while Democrats had a mixed presentation that even elicited that rare commodity at a candidates’ forum: laughter.

  The forum, sponsored jointly by the Kent and Queen Anne’s counties chapters of the non-partisan League of Women Voters, drew a small crowd of about 45 people. The format of the event placed Democrats  and Republicans in separate panels so there was no back-and-forth between potential general election rivals. In the few contested primary races, rivals were allowed to respond to each others answers. But the format, which drew all questions from people in the audience who could direct which candidate should address it, left out some candidates who were not allowed to address a question if it was not aimed at them. At times, candidates not allowed to answer a question seemed to be chafing at the bit to respond, too.

  That problem was most evident in the Democratic panel discussion.  William Manlove, of Cecil County, who is unopposed in the primary and will face incumbent Republican Del. Michael Smigiel in November, was frequently excluded from answering questions posed to the two Democrats running in the party primary for the chance to challenge incumbent Republican  Sen. E.J. Pipkin in the general election. Robert Alt, the former mayor of Elkton, is running against Steven Mumford, a political newcomer from Chestertown, in the primary for Senate.

(Missing from the panel was Arthur Hock, a Democrat who is running for the Kent County seat formerly held by Mary Roe Walkup, who is retiring.)

  Mumford, who has an eclectic background as a professional dancer and operates a historic homes tour business, drew laughter several times for his comments and demonstrated a mostly solid understanding of Kent and Queen Anne’s county issues. (He didn’t address specific issues regarding Cecil County, which he visited recently to appear at a firemen’s parade, waving a colonial tri-cornered hat.)  Perhaps because expectations were low, his performance at the forum was a surprise.

  On the state budget crisis, Mumford quipped, “Maybe Sen. Pipkin can help us out– he’s a multi-millionaire”  and on whether an additional Bay Bridge crossing is needed to ease traffic congestion, he joked that as a swimming instructor he would provide lessons to anyone willing to make the crossing by water, before discussing the issues seriously.

   Mumford was knowledgable on a key local issue: the “FASTC” project that would have brought a federal State Department security training center to a large Queen Anne’s County farm. The project was initially welcomed by local officials but they backpedaled after pressure brought by local anti-growth groups and the federal government withdrew the proposal.   Mumford said that while the 400 or so jobs the facility would have brought to Queen Anne’s were “lost” to that county, the project might still be salvaged and located in Kent or Caroline counties in the 36th District. He said he had talked with local economic development officials who were working with some local farmers interested in offering their property for the facility. “It’s not a dead issue yet,” he said.

  Alt, his primary opponent, admitted he was not up to speed on the issue and said, “I don’t know much about this issue but I’ll try to learn more.” (In comments posted on our short Tuesday night bulletin on the forum, Alt said he has researched the issue further and said it was a tough issue to address at the state level and was best decided by the county government.)

  Manlove said he had “mixed emotions” about weighing the “property rights” of the farmer to sell his land and the jobs the project would create against his concerns that a large farm would be taken out of production, when he has fought for years to preserve agriculture.

  Several questions posed to the Democrats focused on environmental issues, with Manlove outlining his efforts while President of the Cecil County Commissioners to promote “smart growth” policies to limit development in rural areas, keep farms in business and improve water quality through modernization of sewage systems. At one point, the former dairy farmer took exception to a suggestion that farmers were at fault for water pollution: “I resent blaming farmers for all the runoff,” Manlove said, listing other causes such as pavement run-off and failing sewage and septic systems.

  Alt cited his experience working to upgrade municipal wastewater treatment systems. He said a key issue for the state to address is the growing problem of  “saltwater infiltration into drinking water wells” in rural areas on the Shore.

  Alt also offered a suggestion for easing the chronic traffic congestion on Kent Island and Route 50: eliminate the eastbound tolls during peak travel times to end bottlenecks caused by backups at the toll plaza.

   On job creation, Alt said he had “knocked on doors” to bring business to Elkton and would do the same as a state Senator, working with town and county governments in a coordinated effort.  He emphasized his campaign platform to improve communication between local government and the state delegation. (Smigiel and Pipkin have had particularly strained relations with the Cecil County government in recent years.) Mumford, citing his membership in the Screen Actors Guild, said the state should promote the film industry and improve tax breaks to movie companies to shoot films here. Manlove was not allowed to answer the question.

   During the Republican portion of the forum, incumbents Smigiel and Pipkin were joined by incumbent Del. Richard Sossi, who represents Queen Anne’s County. Sossi is being opposed in the Republican primary by Stephen S. Hershey, Jr., who also attended the event. (No Democrats have filed for the Queen Anne’s County seat.) Pipkin is facing a GOP primary challenge from Donald Alcorn, but he did not attend the forum. Also present was Jay Jacobs, the mayor of Rock Hall who is running for the Walkup seat against Democrat Hock.

   The Republicans took pretty much the same position on the issues, often using the same words. On FASTC, most said it was a matter  of “property rights” and something to be decided by county government, with the state delegation having no role to play. But Hershey added that FASTC, and another Wye Mills project opposed by environmentalists, showed “The delegation does need to step in and push these types of projects. ”

    Pipkin offered a spirited defense of his environmental record when a questioner asked about his poor ratings on scorecards of the Maryland League of Conservation voters, which has given him marks of zero to below 40 percent in recent years. He cited his work as a private citizen to stop dumping of dredge spoil material in the Bay off Kent  Island and his work in the recent legislative session to bar dumping of rubble fill. He said he was penalized on the scorecard because he opposed a solar energy bill that “sounds nice” but in fact was “crony capitalism” that would have cost consumers millions.

   The most varied responses came to a broad question: what issue is your top priority to benefit the 36th District.

   Smigiel declared that it was to change the state Constitution. He said he wanted to allow local referendum voting on any local tax increase, and to clarify that local government condemnation of property through eminent domain could only be for public uses, like a school. (Smigiel and Pipkin have been at war this year with the Cecil County Commissioners and tried but failed to pass legislation in Annapolis to mandate what property tax levels the county could set.)

   Jacobs took a more down-to-earth approach: stem the “exodus” of small business from the Shore through lower taxes and incentives to encourage entrepeneurship in the area. Pipkin said his priority was to rein in government spending and cut property taxes and he also urged action to lower utility bills. Hershey declared that the “liberal majority in Annapolis” must be stopped and the corporate income tax should be cut.

    Sossi took a broader approach, saying “We dont have the luxury of picking just one issue” to focus on. He said job creation was crucial, through small business incentives and he said he would support a rollback of the one percentage point increase in the state sales tax enacted under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

    Sossi was the only candidate to address issues pertaining to seniors, who represent a growing proportion of Shore residents. He said “affordable housing” has become a serious problem in the district because seniors can’t afford to keep up their homes. He said he favors a change in state income tax law to allow a tax credit to offset income from pensions,  such as some other states provide.


Elkton Senior Housing: Anatomy of a Deal

July 14, 2010

  When a private, profit-making developer proposed turning a series of dilapidated and vacant properties on High Street into a modern apartment building for senior citizens, Elkton town officials  were over-joyed.  Little did they know then that the project would bring them controversy, a court challenge, and a lot of headaches.

   The Elkton Alliance, whose executive director Mary Jo Jablonski was and is also a town commissioner, could barely contain its glee in 2009 when the Ingerman Group, of Cherry Hill, N.J., moved up in the state’s  priority list for federal housing assistance. (See link here:)    http://elktonalliance.blogspot.com/2009/03/high-street-senior-apartments.html

A majority of the town board has moved heaven and earth, as well as town ordinances, to accomodate the project, as documented in town meeting minutes ( see:  http://www.elkton.org/uploads/Meetings/Mayor%20and%20Commissioners%20Meetings/Minutes/MC12.16.09.pdf ) and Circuit Court proceedings brought by critics who questioned the way the town handled the project. (See also the excellent coverage of the town board on www.someonenoticed.wordpress.com as this issue wound its way through the town approval process.)

   The Ingerman Group has built senior housing and low income family housing projects along the East Coast for many years. Many of their projects have won design and environmental awards. (See homepage here: http://www.ingerman.com/index.php ) Indeed, the artist’s renderings of the Elkton project show a building that by any local standard would be a design asset to the community.

   But local residents have questioned why that location was selected for a residence for fragile seniors, in a dilapidated area known for crime and drug-dealing,  and the late-stage announcement of the developer’s decision to add a rather distant property on tiny Collins Street to the project. The Collins property was initially suggested by the developer as a “satellite parking” lot, raising questions about how many seniors or their visitors really would use a distant parking lot. Under questioning at town meetings and in court proceedings, the town eventually admitted that a parking lot could not legally be placed on the Collins property under town zoning law.

   So why continue to include the Collins street property in the project? David Holden, a self-described “development principal” for the project with the Ingerman Group, told The Cecil Times recently that a new decision had been made to use the Collins property as “open space and a garden for residents.”  The property is some distance from the proposed apartment building– estimated at 400 feet by some town commissioners at a December, 2009 meeting– but visually and physically seeming to be a much greater distance when walking the neighborhood.

   The Collins Street property is owned by Cecil Bank, which the developer has identified as providing partial private financing for the senior housing project. But most of the costs of the senior housing project are actually being borne by taxpayers through state and federal housing and economic stimulus programs.

   Apart from the local zoning and administrative issues that landed the project in court, the Elkton Senior Housing project has moved relatively quickly through the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (MDHCD) process for distributing both state and federal funds.  When the project met roadblocks– such as finishing  just out of the money on a competitive list of projects for a special federal economic stimulus program known as TCAP– the state found new ways to give the project other federal funds.

   State documents show that the Elkton Senior Housing project will receive $2 million in state Rental Housing Funds.  In addition, the state initially approved $1,068,551 in federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits (LIHTC) for the project. Furthermore, the project was trying to obtain, but failed to win a competition for, even more federal aid, passed through the state MDHCD, under the federal TCAP (Tax Credit Assistance Program), state documents show.

 But when the Elkton project finished just out of the money on the competitive TCAP list, the state came up with a new way to keep the project rolling.

   The state, using federal funds, came up with more money under the Section 1602 Tax Credit Exchange Program for the Elkton project just a few months ago, according to a  4/26/10 state spreadsheet document obtained by Cecil Times. Under the arrangement, the Ingerman Group gave back $480,316 of its previous allocation of federal L0w Income Tax Credits and in return got $4 million in federal Section 1602 aid.

(However, that money, provided under economic stimulus initiatives, mandated that aided projects were “shovel ready.” Court proceedings showed that the Elkton project is far from “shovel ready” and the developers did not even own the land. Furthermore, the court action will require the project to go through town planning, zoning and town board approval procedures all over again.)

 Apart from whether the project abides by federal “shovel ready” rules,  to simplify the math and the gobbledegook of state and federal housing bureaucracy, the Ingerman Group is approved for a total of  about $6.6 million in taxpayer-provided subsidies. ($2 million in state rental housing funds, $588,235 in federal Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and $4,013,873 in federal Sec. 1602 aid)  The taxpayer-provided aid covers the vast majority of the project’s costs, initially filed with the state as $10.8 million. However, in recent days, the developer has upped the total costs to at least $11.5 million, including the costs of acquiring the Collins street property that was not mentioned in previous filings with the state.

   The Collins street property is owned by Cecil Bank, according to state property records, after a previous sale arrangement fell through and the property reverted to the bank. Cecil Bank’s parent company, Cecil Bancshares, recently signed an agreement with federal and state regulators requiring  the company to adhere to a host of regulations and procedures designed to assure greater oversight and financial accountability for its operations and non-performing “assets,” such as vacant properties. (See federal regulatory document here:  http://www.federalreserve.gov/newsevents/press/enforcement/enf20100702a1.pdf

   As The Cecil Times previously reported here:  https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/update-1-elkton-sr-housing-loses-in-court-but-golden-parachute-firmly-in-place/  the county Circuit Court ruled Tuesday that the Town of Elkton did not have proper legal authority to grant fee waivers and concessions to the Collins Street property and the Ingerman Group project and the entire proposal must go through a “do-over” under town ordinances. But the town has been rapidly modifying a host of ordinances in recent weeks, which conveniently apply to the Elkton Senior Housing project, according to evidence presented in the court. So the do-over is expected to have the same outcome, in support of the project and the Collins Street property.

   One of the more interesting, and troubling, points raised during the court proceedings was the revelation by Keith Baynes, attorney for the winning plaintiffs against the town of Elkton, that the Ingerman Group had threatened his clients with lawsuits for daring to speak out and file their suit against the town. Such actions, known as “SLAPP” suits, (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) have been recognized under Maryland law for what they are: attempts to silence critics of public actions. State law sharply limits such lawsuits.


BULLETIN: Town of Elkton Settles Lawsuit after Judge Refuses to Dismiss Case Against Concessions on Elkton Senior Housing Project

July 13, 2010

ELKTON– The Town of Elkton agreed Tuesday afternoon to settle a lawsuit brought by two citizens challenging the concessions made by the town to accomodate a proposed senior citizens housing project, after a Circuit Court judge refused the town’s motion to dismiss the case.

     After the ruling by visiting judge Raymond E. Beck to let the case go forward, both sides hammered out an agreement under which the town conceded it lacked the proper legal authority under town ordinances last December when it granted concessions and waivers of fees to an unrelated property at 110 Collins Street, owned by Cecil Bank, and sought to transfer those waivers to the Elkton Senior Housing Project on High Street.  The town also agreed to pay $4,000 in legal bills incurred by the plaintiffs, Robert Litzenberg and James Nicholson.

   In addition, the developer of the project,  the Ingerman Group, of New Jersey, agreed not to sue Litzenberg and Nicholson. Keith Baynes, the attorney representing Litzenberg and Nicholson, told the court that the developer had threatened to sue his clients for speaking out about and filing their lawsuit over the town’s handling of the project.

   But evidence presented in court also showed that the Town of Elkton has been busy changing ordinances in recent weeks to accomodate the developers, in what appeared to be a back up plan in case the town lost the lawsuit.  So, while previous town approvals and concessions for the project were voided by the court settlement, the town, the developer and other interested business interests will get a “do-over” under recently revised ordinances tailored to fit the senior housing project.

    Before the agreement was reached, Judge Beck observed, “It seems that whenever a mistake was found you’re (the town) backing up and changing the ordinances.” It appeared that the town was saying, “can we make it all retroactive” when the question, the judge said, was really “shouldn’t they have to start all over again?” 

   As a result of the settlement, that is exactly what will have to happen: the developer and Cecil Bank, the owner of the Collins street property that is to be sold to the developer under a separate agreement, will get a “do-over” through the town review process. Given the town board’s support of the project, the outcome is hardly in doubt. But opponents will have a chance to raise more questions in public meetings.

    (The Cecil Times will be filing a more detailed report, including information on the more than $6 million in federal taxpayer funds allocated to this project and its speedy progress through the state/federal approval process, despite the fact that the project was far from “shovel ready,” as mandated by the special economic stimulus funds allocated to it.)