ELKTON — The Cecil County Council rejected a proposed bill that would have modified the method by which the county refunds outstanding general obligation bonds by a vote of 3-2 Tuesday evening.
The bill, titled number 2020-13, would have empowered the county executive to execute and deliver executive orders prior to issuing the bonds in order to fix, prescribe and determine the details of the bonds and the issuance and sale of the bonds, according to the language in the bill.
In prior meetings on the proposed bill, council members voiced concerns about removing council oversight from the process and giving that authority to the county executive.
Council member Bill Coutz (R-District 2) said in a meeting in September on the proposal that he was concerned about removing council oversight from the process for a mere 30-day improvement in the speed in which such refunding measures could be approved.
Council member Jackie Gregory (R-District 5) voiced similar concerns and said she was also concerned about the timing of bringing forward the proposed bill.
Gregory reiterated that concern Tuesday evening saying, “...Right now is not even a good time for this, the timing on this is horrendous. Because we’re getting ready to change administrations and there’s nothing going on why this would be something that we should even look at right now.”
Both Gregory and Coutz voted against the matter Tuesday, as did Council President Bob Meffley (R-District 1).
In voting against the measure, Meffley said, “The way I look at this bill is I do not like to give up oversight, especially when it comes to funding… The only problem I have is the foresight of leaving the council out of it.”
Meffley said if the verbiage of the bill was changed he might be able to vote for it, but not how the bill was currently drafted.
In voting against the measure, Coutz said, “I agree that while it is always in the best interest to try and save the county constituency as much money as we can, giving up oversight of those things is counter intuitive to charter government and the separation of branches of government.”
Council members Al Miller (R -District 3) and George Patchell (R-District 4) voted in favor of the measure. In voting for the measure, Patchell said under no circumstances would he ever allow the county executive to usurp the authority of the county council, but noted there may be times that it would be expedient to allow the activities outlined in the bill to take place in order to save millions of dollars.
Establishment of an opioid litigation settlement trust fund
The council members also spent some time discussing Bill 2020-12, an act authorizing the establishment of the Cecil County opioid litigation settlement trust fund.
The bill sets up a framework to invest settlement funds obtained by Cecil County through its involvement in federal lawsuits against manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioid pharmaceutical products, through the creation of a trust for the management of those funds.
At issue during the meeting was a proposed amendment, which would have changed language in the trust to remove a requirement that the trust agreement may be amended by executive order of the county executive after the amendment has been approved by two-thirds of the trustees of the trust.
The proposed amendment, as originally written would have removed the two-thirds requirement and added in a council oversight layer instead. After some further discussion the amendment was changed to retain the language regarding two-thirds of the trustees and also adding in a provision to allow for council oversight.
Miller noted that he felt the opioid trust legislation was the most important vote the council would participate in other than the councils normal decisions on the county’s annual budget.
“I’ve been through a loss of a family member from drug abuse and it’s my belief that the number one problem in Cecil County is drug abuse and addiction,” Miller said, noting that the funds would go to provide support, prevention education and treatment for opioid drug abuse and addiction issues.
After the provision required two-thirds of trustees to approve any amendment to the trust was reinserted into the language of the bill it was approved unanimously.