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.]


Cecil Commissioner Race: Mullin Bankrolls Zeauskas

February 1, 2010

   In Cecil County, political history often repeats itself, with a few twists and turns.  So it was with surprise, but not shock, that we saw that Cecil County Commissioner James Mullin (R-1st)–with many other “AKA” names  on state campaign finance records– is the chief funder of the campaign of Republican political newcomer Chris Zeauskas, running for the Republican nomination for County Commissioner in the Second District.

   Zeauskas, a leader of the Cecil County Young Republicans Club and the declared president of a group called “Cecil Citizens Against Taxation,” is seeking the Republican nomination for the 2nd District Commissioner seat currently held by Rebecca Demmler,  a Republican who has declared she is not a candidate for re-election.

   (Another announced candidate for the Republican nomination for the seat is Tari Moore, a former official with the county Chamber of Commerce and the former campaign manager for current Commissioner Robert Hodge (R-5). The only announced Democratic contender for the seat is Earl Piner, Sr., an Elkton town commissioner, former School Board member and longtime community volunteer and youth sports coach.)

   But there is one real surprise in Zeauskaus’ campaign finance report filed with the state Board of Elections: one of his biggest fundraiser supporters is Democratic candidate for Sheriff Chris Sutton and his campaign organization.  Only in Cecil County…

   Zeauskas’ finance report shows total fundraising of $4,647, with expenses of $4,367. But since the January report is his first, a line item sure to get the attention of State Board of Elections auditors is the listing of a $1,165 “prior balance” in his campaign account, with no disclosure of where that money came from. That said, he lists his net cash on hand as $1,445.

   Under contributions, “Jim Mullin” of “Chesapeake City” (actually, Commissioner James Mullin lives in the Hacks Point community in Earleville),  is listed as donating $1,575–or the vast majority of Zeauskas’ contribution total of $2,142.  Under fundraiser tickets, “Jim Mullin” is listed as the top purchaser, with $450 in ticket purchases to a fundraiser at the Patriots Glen golf clubhouse.

   That makes Commissioner Mullin the top total contributor–$2,025– to Zeauskas’ campaign.

   Zeauskas was an outspoken antagonist to Commissioner Hodge at the county’s January preliminary budget hearing. He did not attack Commissioner Mullin, who also voted for the county’s last budget.

   Chris Sutton, a county Sheriff’s Deputy and second-time Democratic opponent to incumbent Republican Sheriff Barry Janney, shows up as a surprise donor to Republican Commissioner candidate Zeuaskas: Sutton is listed as purchasing fundraiser tickets totaling $225, with another $45 in ticket purchases by Sutton’s campaign treasurer, Patrick Tuer, a “Cecil County Young Democrats” activist.

   The Mullin cash infusion to Zeauskas’ campaign is strangely familiar.  When Mullin ran for county Commissioner in the last election, Republican Commissioner Rebecca Demmler was his chief campaign bankroller, as the Cecil Times reported here:

https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2008/10/30/demmler-bankrolls-mullin-commissioner-payback-time/

   Demmler spent more on Mullin’s campaign than she did on her own. Prior to becoming a county Commissioner, Demmler never held a more financially lucrative job than an occasional substitute teacher job and her husband is a retired boiler operator.  Those facts led many county political observers to wonder whether some other Republican– perhaps a “large” presence in county and state GOP politics– was really the bankroller.  The latest Mullin donations may revive that sort of speculation.

   NEWS UPDATE:  In an interview with The Cecil Times, Zeauskas said his campaign treasurer was working with the State Elections Board to resolve issues surrounding his listing of a previous campaign balance that seemed to be a “mistake.”  He said the bankrolling of his campaign by Commissioner Mullin stemmed from his past volunteer involvement in Mullin’s campaign as a “door to door” campaign volunteer. He said he believed that Commissioner Demmler was planning to support his primary opponent and that he had “nothing personal” against Commissioner Hodge.

   “It wasn’t a budget question,” Zeauskas said of his aggressive questioning of Commissioner Hodge at the January budget hearing. He said he opposed a county takeover of utilities lines from Port Deposit that would serve the proposed Bainbridge complex. He noted that Mr. Mullin opposed that takeover. He said that his primary campaign issue, however, was the budget and county spending.

   As far as Chris Sutton’s support– along with a generous donation from the Cecil County FOP– Zeauskas said he had met with local law enforcement officials to discuss crime and believed they liked his views. He said he supports binding arbitration for Sheriff’s deputies’ labor disputes, a controversial budget issue. Some current Commissioners fear that an outside arbitrator would force the county and its taxpayers to fund a potentially costly labor settlement regardless of county resources. (See Chris Sutton’s comment posted below)

   Zeauskas also said that Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) was not taking an active supportive role in his campaign and had advised him that he would not be involved in the Republican primary for the Commissioner seat.