State of Cecil County Ethics Commission still unclear

State of Cecil County Ethics Commission still unclear

At her inauguration on December 7, 2020, new Cecil County Executive Danielle Hornberger touted the importance of transparency and accountability which wasn’t surprising given that it was the first line of the “Pledge to the People of Cecil County ” on her campaign website.

What was surprising, however, was her decision just five weeks later to oust the entire Cecil County Ethics Commission and attempt to appoint five completely new (and completely inexperienced) members to the body.
I don’t think any of us had that on our “Cecil County Shenanigans” bingo cards.

If you want to demonstrate your dedication to transparency and accountability is replacing the entire ethics commission really one of your first acts in your first term in office? It’s kind of like starting a new management position and immediately firing anyone who knows anything about how the organization runs. Oh, wait…she did that on her first day in office.

Here’s what the Cecil County Code says about the members of the Ethics Commission:

ยง 39-4 Membership terms.

A. There shall be a Cecil County Ethics Commission, which shall be composed of five members appointed by the County Executive, in accordance with the Charter, to staggered four-year terms.[Amended 11-13-2012 by Ord. No. 2012-12]

B. The Commission members shall serve four-year overlapping terms. All members shall reside in and be qualified voters of Cecil County.

C. Not more than three members of the Commission shall be affiliated with the same political party.

D. A Commission member may serve until a successor is appointed and qualifies.

I don’t recall a reason being given for firing the sitting commission members and appointing all new members except to say that the Cecil County Code said she could but it looks like that has yet to be decided. It’s clear that she can appoint new members but I haven’t found a provision in the code for removing commission members.

Timeline so far

  • 1/14/2021–County executive dismisses ethics commission members
  • 1/19/2021
    • County executive sends appointments for five new commission members to the county council for confirmation
    • Public comment at the beginning of the county council legislative session was overwhelmingly against the county executive’s action
    • Council opts to vote that day to reject the appointments in a 4-1 vote (normally, bills are introduced to council at one meeting and voted on at a future meeting. In this case, it all happened on the same day)

Near future

  • 2/2/2021 (Tues)
    • Council work session–The agenda includes “Discussion- Reconsideration of Ethics Commission Appointment” so that could be an interesting exchange.
    • Council legislative session
      • There will most likely be a lively public comment segment during the meeting.
      • The agenda includes “Reconsideration of Resolution Nos. 08-202109-202110-202111-202112-2021” which are the bills appointing the new ethics commission members.
  • 2/8/2021–Scheduled ethics commission meeting–there are currently no commission members listed on the web page and no agenda posted.

All council meetings are streamed live online due to COVID-19 so you can observe the action from home or even provide your own public comment during the legislative session. Links to the recordings are posted after the meeting. Click here for recordings of past meetings and links to future meetings

What happens next?

Who the heck knows. I’m hoping the council seeks or has already sought its own legal counsel on the subject since the county attorney was also appointed by the county executive and doesn’t appear to bring experience on county ethics law.

What happens if the county council again refuses the appointments? How long can we go on without a properly confirmed ethics comission? Time will tell.

What can you do?

  • Contact the county council to express your concerns about the situation and encourage them to act in accordance with the county charter and code as interpreted by experienced counsel. Copy and paste these email addresses: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or call 410-996-5201.
  • Participate in the public comment portion of this Tuesday’s county council legislative session by clicking this link (If you prefer to submit comment in advance rather than speak live during the virtual meeting, call 410-996-5201 or email [email protected] . You’ll be asked to provide your full name, address, and contact information.)
  • If this drags on past Tuesday, write a letter to the editor of the Whig by sending an email to [email protected] with “Letter to the Editor” in the subject line.

Maybe what we’re witnessing is just a new administration taking the slate clearing a little too aggressively–maybe–but if transparency and accountability are to be hallmarks of an administration this is an odd way to show it.