President of the Board of Commissioners Instructs Economic Development to Detail Whatever Connections Exist with County & Group Trying to Influence Voters

This afternoon the President of the Board of Commissioners, Brian Lockhart, responded to a query from Someone Noticed as we focus on figuring out the relationship between the Dept. of Economic Development and a BRAC bus tour used to finance a media campaign to influence voters on a ballot question.  President Lockhart wrote in an email that he would ask Vernon Thompson to prepare a memo providing details about the bus tour and any interaction between the county and the Friends of Charter. 

Clip from web site listing county as contact for tours

We greatly appreciate the commissioner’s intervention as the situation grows more confusing over time.  It appeared the level of county government’s involvement was largely settled when Economic Development provided early comments in two separate interviews.  The Friends were selected because two bus tours were required at one time and the county could only handle one, was the primary reason we were told.  Representatives went on to explain why tourism or a nonprofit not involved in a political campaign couldn’t handle the second crowd as they wanted to “showcase” Cecil properly.  The director also remarked that he wanted out of the tours business since it wasn’t as productive as one would have anticipated.  But the Army said one final undertaking was needed as many federal BRAC workers still needed to relocate. 

That understanding took an astonishing turn over the weekend, when the director advised “The county does not sponsor bus tours. . . . The county was not in possession of nor responsible at any time for conducting a tour. i. e., We were not in a position to give anything away.  Again, the county does not do tours.  We don’t believe it is prudent to spend taxpayer money on this type of activity.”

As that didn’t reconcile with our long-time understanding about the county’s BRAC marketing effort, we asked for more information to help clarify this sudden shift.  So to help with that dilemma, one that resulted in a more tangled story, we asked to examine documents such as letters and emails from contacts with the federal government, the Army, Fort Monmouth, Aberdeen Proving Ground, the Friends and so on.  That wasn’t possible Vernon replied as “There is no written correspondence with anyone concerning tours.”  Given the federal approach to managing things, that surprised us as the county leads the effort to market and arrange BRAC tours as far as we know.  The other thing we have long taken note of is the marketing pitches the county uses to get people from Fort Monmouth to settle here.  Here’s a link to the “last hurrah tour” noting that the county is the contact for the August 2010 tour..   

The president of the board added that to his knowledge there was “no arrangement between any department and the political group and that no county funds were used for tours.  At the Commissioner level, we have maintained impartiality with respect to the Charter ballot question.  We are confident that all of our departments have followed this policy,” he concluded.

After Vernon sent us his weekend messages, we sought to clarify it as they didn’t reconcile with what we understood.  But as of this late Tuesday evening, we still haven’t heard from the director, so we thank the president of the board for asking the dept. to document the matter in a memo.  Obviously this important concern needs to be clarified and if there is absolutely no connection with arranging, coordinating, marketing and/or hosting the trips, it is important to let the public hear about that (quickly we would have thought).  A discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of modifying our form of local government deserves airing too, but the tangle over how one side is financing the pro-charter campaign through bus tours clouds the public policy discussion.

"Lash Hurrah" tour advises to contact Economic Development to register.

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6 responses to “President of the Board of Commissioners Instructs Economic Development to Detail Whatever Connections Exist with County & Group Trying to Influence Voters

  1. Remember, there are just a few basic questions that need to be answered, but talk about a struggle to get these simply things clarified.
    1. To what degree did Economic Development promote, arrange, coordinate, sponsor, host and/or support the bus tours related to the BRAC marketing effort. That now needs to be anwsered to understand other points that have been around for two weeks, as the department say it never hosted bus tours.
    2. If the Dept. has involvement in BRAC bus tours, as earlier remarks indicated and promotional literature, newspaper accounts and web-sites note, how is it that a group seeking to influence an election was selected as the sponsor for the “last hurrah,” especially in light of the fact that this was going to be the group’s primary fundraiser?
    3. How is it that this one tour became such a substantial fundraiser or was the Chamber of Commerce (or others) also using them as a fundraiser to support nonprofits or governmental operations? That sort of info will help identify any variation in the pattern of expectations.
    Remember there is nothing to suggest that the county was handing over direct outlays of cash. There is some reason to believe that in-kind contributions need to be added to the Board of Elections Financial Discloure Report to reflect the value of professional services the county offered in support of the “See Cecil” fundraising tour for the Friends of Charter. One obvious area that seems apparent is the direct support of professional and administrative staff to book and coordinate the researvations. Hopefully the county memo will pin more of this down so it can be determined if there was in-kind support for a nonprofit.
    Commissioner Lockhart’s intervention should finally procure the answers to these matters that have been growing as we head into 3 weeks of this. We had been trying to put these to rest all along, but instead more questions cropped on based on the few responses we received from county staff. Thanks to Commissioner Lockhart, a written memo containing a report will greatly help.

  2. What are you talking about. Look at the stuff you put up there. The county helped the friends make that money for a political purpose. That is all there is to it. Anyone can see. If they didn’t how come they got all those ads telling me to call the county to go on the tour. You better get real here on this web site. Also those commissioners want to say that none of their people got involved in helping running a political campaign. What are they talk about. [Remarks removed by Someone Noticed] Came on commissioners so you want people working for the county helping election campaigns. Get with it. This is wrong.

  3. Do the Commissioners really think we’re going to believe Scott Mesneak’s report regarding the cost of televising commissioner meetings? ($675,000 for the startup and $200,000 to $300,000 to maintain the system.)

    Scott, which counties did you research? We don’t have to create a network like Harford County.

    A cheaper alternative is setting up voice-activated cameras and live streaming the broadcasts.
    I found this site (http://www.county.org/resources/library/county_mag/county/131/lights.html) very quickly and it shows how Smith County in Texas was able to affordably televise through live stream and they have 5 cable companies to coordinate. Franchise agreements deal with that issue.
    But the real benefit is that a permanent, complete record is kept of commissioner meetings which may be why the commissioners are not motivated to make it affordable. In fact, we probably could have purchased the voice-activated video equipment for the price of this five-year study.

    Diana Broomell

    • Diana,
      The subject here is NOT about televising commissioner meetings. You seem to be lost.

      The subject here is about County Commissioner Lockhart, Office of Economic Development, BRAC, bus tours, charter, etc.

      Please pay attention.

    • Diana:
      These are some interesting points you make. Creating much more transparency in local government at all levels in Cecil County is a worthwhile pursuit so why not share video of all the meetings, not just the workshops.
      Elkton’s citizens here have to work hard to stay informed and they’re quick to rush behind closed doors as they also greatly restrict time the public can provide input (after the fact, usually). Broadcasting all the county’s public meetings would make it easy for citizens in this busy time to keep up. But the county needs to share all it’s public meetings as well, especially the workshops, some of the most important sessions. I also think the county is a little too quick to rush behind closed doors to discuss the public business, as well. Just open up the process and let the people stay informed rather than try to conduct public behind behind closed doors or making viewing and monitoring hard.
      As for cost, we can’t imagine why they couldn’t just stream it on the Internet at practically no cost. We watched the Young Republicans do that a few times and there probably wasn’t added cost.
      Since Elkton recenlty decided that it needed to stop videotaping its workshops so the commissioners could have a more free, open environment to discuss public business, we’re picking up that public service task for the town. There’s no additional cost for us.
      Surely if the Young Republicans can do it, and we model our effort off of their innovative approach, the county could figure it out.
      BTW, we did mention how easy it was to stream on the net on a post we wrote about the same time this one went up, so we’re pleased to see your timely input.
      We think we’ll do a full article examining the county matter and get it up shortly. It’s a good idea and shouldn’t cost government much. Thanks for being an advocate for open government.

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