Update: Waiting on Response From County Concerning Support for Group Seeking to Sway Voters

After we reported that the largest source of cash receipts for Friends of Charter of Cecil County came from aiding the County’s Department of Economic Development as it conducted BRAC bus tours, lots of additional questions were posited by readers.  Some of those are important queries so as a follow-up on the breaking news piece we phoned the Director of Economic Development to get comments.  Vernon Thompson wasn’t available last week when we called so we’d hoped to hear from him today, but we’re still waiting.  As soon as the director contacts us and we have a chance to ask additional questions about the matter, we’ll update the blog.  Others contacts have already provided data on the follow-up requests so once we get the last interview we’ll have an update.

Another insightful element will be the detailed financial report from the group seeking to sway citizens on one of the most important political questions they’ll consider.  It is due October 8, according to the Maryland Dept. of Elections.  That formal filing provides more detailed information about fundraising, which helps produce a clearer picture of how the state registered special influence committee raised its fund to underwrite the media campaign.  We quickly want to remind readers the political group has been responsive to questions thus far, providing summary financial data.  This state-mandated report simply provides a bigger lens with greater detail.  These financial reports, for any campaign, are important for understanding the influences so this document has interest, regardless of the fundraising issue.  Still it will provide another element considering the surprising twist this original news story took.

Web page from MD Elections Center showing organizational data on Friends of Charter

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6 responses to “Update: Waiting on Response From County Concerning Support for Group Seeking to Sway Voters

  1. Why don’t you update your blog with the same alacrity as to the fact that Vernon Thompson has responded to your inquiries, or is it better for you to leave it to look as OED is not responsive to you or is hiding something?

    • Howard: In reference to your cocncern yesterday about getting up the full story out concerning OED’s statement about helping Friends of Charter, raise funds, it is now up. If the director wants to append anything to those remarks or release something more formal, that would be welcome.

      There’s some more to come on this as we source it from a few other contacts and we’ll file those as promptly as possible.

  2. Howard:

    Ah we see the county government’s grapevine (talk about communicaton’s efficiency) is working on its regulary productive shcedule. It really started steaming right along the other day when we called to verify rumors about the billboards. Those calls as people started talking about it took this story in an entirely different direction than anticpated, since we thought it would just going to say there’s nothing to the rumors.

    You’re right, before lunch yesterday Vernon Thompson called and talked openly to us about the issue of the county arranging for a political action committee to host a bus tour for BRAC. It was an insightful and helpful discussion that added to the knowledge of the story and we will be getting a piece up soon. We want to make sure we get it right and also there were other events to be covered yesterday such as the sheriff’s and state’s attorney’s forums.

    But obviously you’ve been briefed so you’re current on the conversation. However, we’ll get out a news brief or flash to all the readers since we do recognize and value the responsibility of presenting both sides. (Full story to follow.) Too, once again, we’d like to present it clearly and accurately. Meanwhile if the Dept of Economic Development or as you refer to it, the OED wants to release a statement, we’ll certainly publish that too. You confused us for a moment when you used internal governmental lingo, calling it OED. For a second or two, we were thinking about our valued Oxford English Dictionary, commonly referred to as the OED. But we worked through that.

    Since you’re in a hurry for this side, here are some elements of our conversation. Previously the U.S. Army hosted the tours so there was no direct involvement of the OED (We’ll use your style), the director advised. In between the County Chamber of Commerce hosted a couple. As things were coming to an end, the Director said he didn’t want to be in the BRAC bus tour business, because large numbers would enroll and far fewer showed up on the day of the tour. Nonetheless, for the August tour, once the Army pulled out , OED was approached about another one. His though because of what the data was showing was not to do it. As the discussion went on an the govt said they had large numbers that still needed to develop relocation plans, he said from his standpoint he made the decision quickly, in about 30 seconds. OK go with it.

    That then opened logistics matters of how the county should handle it. Since members of the Chamber of Commerce had done the tours previously as volunteers, one of them stepped forward as a representative of the Friends and said the tour could be done. Thus OED coordinated one and arranged for the Friends of Charter to do the 2nd, over capacity, tour. The chamber representative had been volunteering throughout this process so was thoroughly ready for the routine.

    When asked why OED would go to a political group as the host, especially when a profit was going to come out ouf the exercise, there were some reasons. The representative for Friends had previously volunteered to do the tour so she was able to step right in; they knew they were familiar with how to handle it and anyone just could do this; She had worked well with OED in many capacities and on many committees; the decision had to be made quickly.

    While listening to those logical answers, the next set of questions concerned why not have some other nonpolitical group or governmental group handle it. A few people have posted here saying they’d be glad to do it for their nonprofit for that kind of money. There were reasonable OED responses to that such as would they know how to do it and would they follow through. Also, the county has such a small number of involved people, there are few they can go to. Another question was why not have the County Tourism dept. handle it. They too are in the business of marketing the county. The answer was it’s a small staff and OED wants to keep them focused on marketing the county internally. Those are the key ways OED management summarized those inquiries.

    That’s largely the gist of it and the director is welcome to publish a statement. We’ll sketch this out soon, but since you were briefed and were curious, we didn’t want to keep your message waiting in our pending list.

    To summarize where this story has stood from the beginning. The county didn’t pay out direct money for the Friends of Charter. They did arrange for the Friends, a group trying to influence an election, to run a bus tour of the county. It generated the advocacy group’s largest portion of income. That’s the core of the cluster of facts.

    As for our opinon, and we’ll write our own editorial in time, we don’t believe county government, either directly or by arranging things, should be affiliating itself with groups seeking to sway the opinion of voters in Cecil County. That’s a firewall you want strictly maintained. Also from the stanppoint of the Friends we would have said no as it would take us off the core message. They have an important message that voters need to hear about the strength of changing our form of home rule. Why go off target as these things predictably will do? Also we think we know plenty of qualified tour guides that know the county very well that would have stepped forward to market the county, without any political advocacy goal in mind, other than supporting a local nonprofit as a volunteer. Always remain open to incorporating more people from the wider community, as there is a far wider group than the small economic development circle. Or for one time, have tourism or an all hands on deck type of approach for everyone in OED, handle just one last tour. Those are our opinions on the matter.

    We’re still working on this from other angles, but thank the OED for openly answering the questions that were put forth. There are other involved parties and we’re waiting for additonal information and then we’ll be finished with this story and can move back to discussing the ballot question. A story is best sourced by discussing it with a wide range of contacts.

    Howard, hope this helps since we didn’t want you to think we were holding back on posting the response from the OED.

  3. Oh my god the Smipkins are coming, the Smipkins are coming.

    Run for it. They’ll destroy the county. They’ll destroy the country. They”ll . . . . Oh no who knows what they’ll do next. Run for it, the Simpklins are coming. The sky is falling.

    Oh no what are Am I doing. I can’t deal with the real issue. Got to focus on something else.

    The sky is falling. Just ask them.

    Chicken Little.

  4. Chicken Little:

    A couple of people sure are focusing on Senator Pipkin and Delate Smigiel and they spend a lot of time on their favorite subject. I think Someone Noticed can safely say that we don’t have to worry about the sky falling, they’re not going to destroy the world or whatever the angle is that’s getting pitched.

    We’d recommend people present arguments about positions related to the public policy questions at hand. There’s far more than enough room for debate and there should be considerations and public airing on each side of a question, whatever it is. That fair and civil airing of a subject, will help voters.

    Interesting that what’s started this off is the story about the county arranging for a political group to be able to work conduct a funraising tour. Notice you don’t hear much about that so I guess those that are fetting over this, think that’s okay for a county dept head to connect a political active group with its principal fundraiser.

    Just to quickly add, we do think it was just a lapse in good judgment and not something deeper. But our county professionals should not be working as county representatives to help any group that has as its goal the influencing of voter opinions or for that of candidates.

    Anyway thanks for sharing your worries. We’ll be okay, whatever the political outcome of the upcoming election season.

  5. This is another example of what average citizens can due to improve local government. Technology makes it easier for “we the people” to participate in self-government by keeping close watch on our representatives. Good work, blogger!

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