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.]

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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.


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.


Carl Roberts Creates Campaign $ Committee; Expected to Run Against Tome

March 1, 2010

   Former Cecil County Schools Superintendent Carl Roberts has created a campaign fundraising committee, according to online state election records, but has not yet formally declared his expected candidacy for the 4th District County Commissioner seat currently held by Democrat Wayne Tome.

   Dr. Roberts, who served as the schools chief from 1996 until his retirement in 2008, filed papers for “Friends of Carl Roberts,” a campaign finance committee, in February and named two political unknowns as campaign officials. Eugene Caffey,  of Port Deposit, is his campaign treasurer and Linda Dyekman, a Chesapeake City graphic designer, is his campaign chairman. Dyekman is a member of BEPAC, the Business and Education Partership that links local businesses with county education programs.

   Since leaving the county schools post, Dr. Roberts has served as executive director of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland and has been the legislative liaison (lobbyist) for the Council of Education Adminstrative and Supervisory Organizations. Last year, he applied to become Superindendent of Schools for Harford County, but he was passed over and another applicant won the job.

   Although technically a “newcomer” to election politics, Roberts is a seasoned player in the county political game. He managed to convince successive boards of commissioners to boost education spending dramatically and delivered rising test scores in county schools. But he was also criticized by some as fostering a costly, top-heavy administrative staff.

    Roberts has been contacting various political and community leaders for months to solicit their support for a primary challenge to Tome. While some Democrats have cautioned against a challenge to the incumbent Tome, others, including some Republicans, have been encouraging a Roberts campaign, according to informed sources.

    Tome said in an interview with The Cecil Times that he plans to seek re-election and filed paperwork to form his campaign finance committee a few days ago, although it has not yet been posted online by the state Election Board. Tome said he would postpone a formal announcement of his candidacy until completion of the current county budget process. “I want to concentrate all my efforts on doing the business of Cecil County in this important process,” Tome said.

    “He’s a very knowledgable and smart individual,” Tome said of Roberts. “But I believe I have a lot more experience on a wider range of county issues, and I feel we need to continue the progress we’ve started.”

 Tome, an officer in the Baltimore County Fire Department for many years, has been a leading advocate for Cecil County’s politically influential  fire companies and public safety spending. However, he has questioned the potential costs of binding arbitration sought by county Sheriff’s Deputies. As a result, some of his base of support has been undermined as Republican members of the state legislative delegation push state legislation to hold a referendum on the issue.

   Roberts was always an outspoken advocate of increased education spending by the county in the budget process, a position that often pitted his agenda against other county agencies, including the Sheriff’s department.

   Meanwhile, a candidate can create a finance committee and solicit donations even before filing the formal paperwork to declare candidacy for elected office, according to state Elections Board officials. But someone who has formally filed as a candidate may not solicit contributions until the separate finance committee paperwork is filed. This year, candidates for county offices must file an ongoing campaign committee with electronic reporting of donations. In the past,  local candidates could file “personal treasurer” reports that were filed on paper locally and not searchable online.

    A Republican, Mike Dawson, has already filed his candidacy and begun fundraising for the 4th District seat. Dawson, a former Prince George’s County police officer, is a newcomer to the county and county politics but has been active with the Cecil County Young Republicans Club. The club is  expected to field candidates from its membership in all three of the Commissioner seat contests this year.

    The Cecil Times has calls in to Roberts and will update this report upon  his response.

UPDATE: We didn’t receive a callback but Roberts has formally announced that he is running for Tome’s Commissioner seat. He has posted a website, http://www.electcarlroberts.com/home.html

His campaign theme is “Leadership for the Future” and includes lots of vintage family photos under the “biography” section. We assume more detailed information will be upcoming.

 Tome has filed his campaign finance committee report and lists Peter Kirksley as Treasurer and Tim Snelling as committee chairman. Snelling is himself a former unsuccessful commissioner candidate and has served for several years on the county liquor board.