Tuesday the Cecil County Commissioners released the board’s findings concerning questions about how a BRAC bus tour was handed off to a group that used the activity to finance a campaign to sway voters on a ballot question. Saying that it found no wrongdoing, the board said it has never “picked any organization to conduct BRAC tours” and “Economic Development played no part in the tours.” Additionally, “the county has no knowledge of any revenues” as the organization listed with the Maryland Board of Elections, Friends of Cecil County Charter, sought contributions from home builders, realtors and insurance companies to sponsor the visit.
The letter signed by President Brian Lockhart stressed the success of the tours and the importance of that outcome to the area’s economy. “Of the 2,405 employees transferred thus far, 439 or 18% of the transferees from Ft. Monmouth have decided to reside in Cecil County.” These new residents have “average yearly salaries just under six figures.” This was accomplished “without expenditures of county funds.”
The inquiries from Someone Noticed related to determining local governments involvement with the arrangement started at the end of September. As the weeks went by, the matter grew more tangled while also escalating in local political circles. One complicating element was Economic Development’s statement that it didn’t do bus tours. That didn’t reconcile with our long-time understanding about the county’s BRAC marketing effort as local government speeches, published accounts and websites often include remarks how successful the county is with its marketing effort. We thus asked for more information to help sort out the separation, thinking that by discussing it with federal, state or military BRAC coordinators we’d have a better understanding. That wasn’t possible the county told us, nor was there any written correspondence with anyone concerning tours!
Finally, in a well-attended workshop last Tuesday, with print media outlets present and video cameras rolling, the county commissioners publicly examined the questions. Camcorders captured it second-by-second but afterwards clips were selectively shared on the web. As those outtakes, illustrated points supporting this or that (depending on one’s view about the matter), it caused one Cecil Whig subscriber to call the newspaper to see if they could purchase the entire recording so an entire airing of the contentious meeting could be had. That way everyone could see what happened without it being filtered by any print reporters or bloggers, whatever their point of view about pinning down basic questions related to the county’s involvement in handing off bus tours. (The daily paper had captured the entire meeting on camera and shown a few selected minutes on its website.)
Although we didn’t have a video of the meeting, we linked to a YouTube segment a few days afterwards as some readers questioned why we said President Lockhart wanted to know if having the Friends return the money would resolve the problem. That footage showed where our quotes came from. There are plenty of other links out there, but another one we covered was Commissioner Hodge’s remarks as he concluded things: ”I think Senator Pipkin’s points are well taken. Things could have been done different. I wish they were done differently. . . .”
The letter from President Brian Lockhart details the county’s conclusion, there was no “wrongdoing.” The county merely used its e-mail address as the contact point for the bus tour President Lockhart worte, as it has done for all the earlier visits since 2007. It “is a service we have provided to all organization’s conducting tours,” the president of the board wrote.