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.


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]