A1 A1
top story
County council approves 4 of 5 ethics commission appointees

ELKTON — The Cecil County Ethics Commission appointees were once again a hot topic of discussion Tuesday night as the Cecil County Council voted to approve the appointment of four of the appointees, while a motion to approve the fifth member failed for lack of a second.

After hearing from over two dozen county residents during their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night, the council took up the matter of approving ethics commission appointees offered by County Executive Danielle Hornberger.

As during previous meetings, several speakers voiced approval of Hornberger’s appointees, while others voiced displeasure in the process of the removing the prior commission to replace it with five new members.

The county council had originally rejected all five of Hornberger’s appointees without interviewing them by a vote of 4-1 in January. The reason for the rejection was given by Council member Bill Coutz (R-District 2) due to what he called “lack of proper procedure being followed.” Specifically Coutz referenced the fact that Hornberger fired the entire previous ethics commission without consulting with the council, as one of the issues he had with the process.

The original rejection by the council was followed up by the council making a decision to later reconsider Hornberger’s nominees. Part of this was due to a concern that by rejecting the resolutions introducing the five appointees in January, the council had not actually rejected the appointees themselves, and that the five would effectively become members of the commission 30 days after their appointments.

Last week, the council took time during its Tuesday work session to interview each of the five appointees, prior to holding a vote on them this week.

One specific appointee garnered both support and displeasure from some who spoke during Tuesday’s meeting. Several residents voiced support for Pastor Andrew Goins, while others questioned his qualifications to sit on an ethics committee, specifically with respect to Goins’ position on LGBTQ issues.

Those who spoke in support of Goins gave examples of his work in the community and their belief in his ethical standards based upon years of their own experiences with him.

Goins, along with appointees Janet Pope, Joseph Graf and Charles Kelso, were all approved by the county council. Council Vice-President Jackie Gregory (R- District 5) made a motion to approve the fifth appointee, Heather O’Rourke, but that motion failed for lack of a second.

During the meeting, several residents voiced concerns about O’Rourke due to the nature of her political allegiances. According to the county charter, the ethics commission is to be made up of no more than three members of the same political party. Three of the appointments are registered Republicans and two are registered Democrats, but it was discussed during the council legislative session by several of those speaking during the public portion of the meeting, that O’Rourke had transferred her registration to Democrat just prior to being appointed to the post.

When O’Rourke’s appointment came up for vote, her qualifications were not discussed, the motion to approve her nomination simply failed because none of the other four council members in attendance seconded Gregory’s motion.

top story
Port Deposit Planning Commission to review Bainbridge re-development plans

PORT DEPOSIT — A public meeting will be held Feb. 25 at 7 p.m. to review an application from Bohler Engineering and MRP Bainbridge I LLC to build four industrial buildings on a 430-acre parcel of the former Bainbridge Naval Training Center property.

“This is a concept meeting,” said Toni Sprenkle, project manager for the Bainbridge Development Corporation, the quasi-governmental organization set up by the Maryland General Assembly in 1999 to shepherd the re-development of the 1200-acre site in Port Deposit.

This meeting, available to the public through Zoom, will review the specifics of the proposed plans including roads, site access and amenities such as parking, utilities and landscaping. BDC will have to install sediment and erosion controls and stormwater devices.

MRP Industrial, which has been part of the re-development plans for several years, will build four structures on the site that would be ready for occupancy.

“They are working with a prospective “Tenant A” and “Tenant B,” Sprenkle said, adding even she does not know which companies have shown interest.

When Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford visited the site in Oct. 2019 D. Reid Townsend, principal with MRP, described projects the Baltimore-based developer had completed in neighboring Harford County including a distribution center for The Container Store.

“This property can be used pretty quickly if it’s restored for a commercial/industrial site,” he said told Rutherford.

Work continues with the environmental services cooperative agreement, which is a concentrated and targeted clean up of just that 430 acres to be developed in Phase 1.

“They are tilling the top 12- to 18-inches to check for asbestos material and it’s being placed in an appropriate area and capped,” she said.

Following that, BDC will work with Maryland Department of the Environment on signing off on the environmental concerns of the site, Sprenkle said.

Once the work is completed the property is transferred from BDC to MRP Industrial.

“It will be under private development and bring in tax dollars for Port Deposit, Cecil County and the state,” Sprenkle said, adding, “which is what we’ve all been waiting for.”

To join the meeting go to zoom.us. Click on “join a meeting” and enter this for the meeting ID: 963 6373 0495

top story
CCPS superintendent calls Blueprint for Maryland's Future a "godsend"

ELKTON — The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future bill is now law after the Maryland House and Senate overrode Governor Larry Hogan’s veto. Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Lawson said the plan will have an immense impact on Cecil County Public Schools.

“It’s a godsend for us to be very honest with you,” said Lawson.

Lawson approves of the more aspirational goals of the Blueprint including a heavy emphasis on early education, college and career readiness, a high quality diverse workforce and general school support. On a granular level the additional funding will help CCPS retain current staff and hire new employees despite a decreasing number of students.

According to Lawson, this year, the current version of the legislation will provide $13,800,000 in funding for Cecil County Public Schools. Of that money, $5.2M is “hold harmless,” representing what the County could have lost in state revenue based on decreased enrollment over the past year.

“We look at a million dollars in revenue as 15 positions, And not every position costs the same but as an average, where if you’re looking at some of our support staff or some of our administrators, a good ballpark is 15 positions per million,” said Lawson. “So when we look at a shortfall in revenue in the neighborhood of $5.2 million, well, you do the math, that’s 80 positions.”

Lawson said there is an expectation that the state will readdress the per-pupil calculation for funding. Each child generates a certain amount of revenue from the state, with additional funds to assist English Language Learners, Disabled, and poor students.

The law does not add any additional funding mandates to Cecil County until 2025. Lawson said the district is consistently funded above the maintenance of effort, the minimum amount of funding necessary for the school system, so the Blueprint does not mandate any local funding increases for several years.

“County leadership is aware that the way Kirwan is currently constructed, their financial obligation is fairly static for the next couple of years,” said Lawson. “And then it’ll start to escalate.”

Lawson said that because of the County’s decreased enrollment, the County could reduce school funding while remaining above the maintenance of effort. However, Lawson said the governor is incentivizing counties to keep school funding the same.

“I know the price tag gives many people heartburn, and rightly so,” said Lawson. “I think the five areas of focus that they’ve {Kirwan Commission} articulated are appropriate. They’re needed. And, educating children isn’t cheap. “

Of the aforementioned $13,800,000 in the state budget, $5 to $6 million is restricted, according to Lawson. The earmarking of funds for specific positions limits the financial freedom of the County. For example, money from the children’s with disabilities grant can’t be spent to pay the salaries of standard English teachers.

“I think what happens is, as these bills are created, there are well-intended efforts to secure pockets of money for students with disabilities or for children from poverty,” said Lawson. “But from a school systems perspective, we have needs outside of those two immediate areas, and it really paints school systems into a corner in terms of deciding how money gets spent.”

For Cecil County, the Blueprint sets aside $83,000 for a mental health coordinator and $1.3 million for special education in general. The slightly under half-million-dollar concentration of poverty will create a community outreach person and fund full-time nurses at two schools. A $2.5 million supplemental instruction grant will put tutoring staff to assist elementary schoolers in reading math, and a $1.2 million grant will offset the costs of providing full-day pre-kindergarten.

“There are too many people that start to look at government services and say, who can do it the cheapest? And I gotta tell you, it’s almost like a race to the bottom sometimes, well, if we can pay our teachers, you know, $3,000 less, we’re saving money,” said Lawson. “And that’s true from a math perspective. But on the back end, there are consequences to that.”

A focus of the Blueprint is increasing teacher salaries to make Maryland more competitive. Lawson said when Blueprint funding first came online in 2019, CCPS received a $1.5 million annual grant to increase starting teacher salaries. The importance of salaries that can attract graduates is something Lawson has emphasized in budget meetings, and Blueprint helps CCPS compete with neighboring districts in Delaware and Pennsylvania.

“It’s easy to get trapped into the notion that we’re competing with Kent County, Queen Anne’s County, going right on down south to Dorchester, but we’re not,” said Lawson. “We’re competing with Harford, Chester school district up in PA, Christina school district in Wilmington and Newark. That’s who we compete with.”

New stables are being completed, and an outdoor ring may be in the future for On The Bit Equestrian Center in Oxford, Pa.

New stable are finished at On The Bit Equestrian Center

featured top story
Police: Man caught with $420K in pot near North East

NORTH EAST — A man remained in custody on Thursday after investigators confiscated more than 120 pounds of suspect marijuana with an estimated street value in excess of $420,000 during an Interstate 95 traffic stop near North East, according to Cecil County District Court records.

Maryland State Police Sgt. C. Conner started his investigation at approximately 4:20 p.m. on Wednesday, when he stopped a Toyota Sienna driven by the suspect — Xiao Dong Chen, 39, of Brooklyn, N.Y. — in the southbound lane of I-95, about a mile north of the North East/Rising Sun ramps, for allegedly following another vehicle too closely, police reported.

Conner detected an odor of marijuana coming from the Sienna while speaking with Chen, which led to the trooper conducting a probable-cause search of the mini-van, police said. The trooper found “five large laundry bags” containing smaller heat-sealed bags holding suspect marijuana and seized them, police added.

Field tests performed on samples of the substance contained inside those confiscated bags identified it as marijuana that, in total, weighed slightly more than 121 pounds, which translates to about 55 kilos or 54,975 grams, according to charging documents.

“Evidence and statements made by the defendant indicate that the marijuana was being transported from New York to Virginia. The estimated street value of the suspected marijuana is $424,000. Based on the sheer amount of the marijuana seized show an indication to distribute and is clearly over the 11 kilogram threshold for importation,” Connor outlines in his written statement of probable cause contained in court records.

Connor arrested Chen at the traffic stop scene, police reported.

Chen is facing four charges, including importing marijuana into the state, possession of a large amount of marijuana and possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, all of which are felonies with maximum penalties ranging from five to 25 years in prison, court records show.

He remained in custody on Thursday, awaiting his bail review hearing, according to court records, which do not indicate where Chen was being held or specify what, if any, bond amount had been set.

This was the courthouse building in 1918. It stood on the corner of Main Street and North Street in the center of town.

Old Courthouse

Asking the town for permission to expand its hotel rooms from 500 to 700, Great Wolf Lodge offered this diagram showing the existing footprint…