County Commissioners: Roberts Upsets Tome in Democratic Primary

September 14, 2010

    Former Schools Superintendent Carl Roberts apparently upset incumbent County Commissioner Wayne Tome Tuesday in the Democratic primary for the District 4 Commissioner’s seat, after a well-financed campaign that contrasted Roberts’ dire predictions of fiscal and policy crisis against Tome’s contention that the county was on the right course.

   With all 19 precincts and early voting tallies reporting, Roberts had 2,928  votes to Tome’s 2,492. Roberts garnered 54 percent of the vote to Tome’s  nearly 46 percent.

    (County election officials said late Tuesday that all regular ballots had been counted. However, absentee ballots and provisional ballots will be counted Thursday and next week.)

   Tome, a battalion chief with the Baltimore County fire department and former mayor of Port Deposit, has been a strong supporter of local volunteer fire companies and EMS personnel. However, he drew fire from county Sheriff’s deputies– normally an ally of other emergency responders. Tome and other commissioners opposed legislation drafted by Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel, both R-36,  to impose binding arbitration on negotiations between the county and deputies represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 2.  After a legislative battle in Annapolis, the county commissioners largely prevailed with approval of collective bargaining, which the commissioners always supported, and non-binding arbitration.

   Roberts, who presided over the county schools during a period of population growth and rising test scores for students, nevertheless drew criticism for spiraling costs of running the school system on his watch. During his Commissionercampaign, Roberts blasted the current board of Commissioners, saying they lacked a “strategic plan” to direct county policies, programs and finances for the future.

   The winner of the Democratic primary will face off in November against the winner of the Republican primary. 

    That GOP race, like many other contested Republican races in the county Tuesday, pitted members of a “slate” of candidates fielded by 36th District Del. Michael Smigiel and Sen. E.J. Pipkin, against non-slate candidates. 

   In the 4th District GOP primary, Diana Broomell, who ran against Tome in the general election four years ago but lost, ran a low-key, low budget primary campaign.  Her  better-financed opponent,  Mike Dawson, a former Prince George’s county police officer, was a member of the “Young Republicans Club” and a member of the Smigiel-Pipkin “slate” of local Cecil County candidates.

   But Broomell narrowly pulled off a 51 percent tally, with  2,908  votes, to Dawson’s 48.8  percent, with 2,777 votes.

     District 3

      The Pipkin-Smigiel slate pounded out a surprise victory in District 3, with the upset win by Michael Dunn, a legislative aide to Smigiel. Dunn registered 2,469 votes, or 42 percent.

        Former County Commissioner Harry Hepbron, who lost a re-election bid in 2006 to current Board of Commissioners President Brian Lockhart (D), came in second place in his comback campaign in the Republican primary Tuesday. Hepbron owns the popular Dove Valley Vineyards and Winery in Rising Sun and served two terms on the county Board of Commissioners before his defeat in the last election. ( Lockhart was unopposed in the Democratic primary Tuesday.) Hepbron received 2,084 votes, or 35.5 percent of the tally.

   Coming in third in Tuesday’s GOP primary voting was Ted Kolodzey, a local “tea party” activist, who surprised attendees at a candidate’s forum this summer when he attacked Smigiel and Pipkin for what he said was an attempt to control county politics and government. “They will destroy this county,” said Kolodzey, who said he had rebuffed attempts to recruit him to a Smigiel-Pipkin slate. Kolodzey received 1,314 or 22 percent.

 District 2

   As in so many local contests this year, District 1 became another Smigiel-Pipkin surrogate contest,  pitting their relatively unknown “slate” candidate, Christopher  Zeauskas, against Tari Moore, a former executive director of the county Chamber of Commerce. But Moore– the non-slate candidate–  won the victory.

    Moore pulled in 3,044 votes, or 52.2  percent, while Zeauskas received   2,784votes, or 47.7  percent.

 The winner of the GOP primary will face Earl Piner, Sr., who was unopposed in the Democratic primary. Piner is a former member of the county school board and Eklton town commissioner. He has also coached basketball teams at Cecil College and youth sports teams in the Elkton area.

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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.