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.
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.
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.