Editor's note: The Republican and Democratic candidates for Cecil County executive were both interviewed the week of Sept 14-18. What follows are their responses to questions put to them by the Cecil Whig during in-person interviews. These interviews are being offered to voters at this time due to the nature of the 2020 election cycle and the opportunity for voters to cast their ballots by mail prior to the Nov. 3 election.
Cecil Whig: Do you think that Maryland's policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic is right for Cecil County?
Jeff Kase (Democratic candidate for Cecil County Executive): It seems to be working. I'm not a scientist, so I'm going to rely on the scientists to call the shots, and it appears that Governor Hogan is following the protocols that are suggested to him by the experts in viral pandemics. I think it's unfortunate, it's really decimating our small businesses and making it really difficult for our teachers and our students in schools. And it's throwing a lot of obstacles into a lot of people's lives that, quite frankly, we're just not used to. However, we're in a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and the protocols are changing as more information is getting revealed, and more research is being done. So I don't think anybody, be it Maryland or any other state is doing a perfect job, but I don't think a perfect job can be done.
CW: How have your meetings and conversations with local business leaders informed your ideas about how to bring or shape economic development in Cecil County?
JK: I am meeting with the Cecil business leaders next week. I've spoken to County Executive [Alan] McCarthy. As a citizen of Cecil County, watching what he's done over the last four years, I liked a lot of what he's done with the economic development and the route 40 enterprise area and I would continue along that same path as far as courting businesses. I'd like to court some more high tech businesses, provide some more technical jobs. I think there is a place for warehouses and those types of businesses but I think we can court some more intriguing businesses to come to the county. We're sitting smack dab in between the Baltimore/D.C. metro area and Philadelphia. We've got I-95 running right through our county, and I think we could make Cecil County a really appealing place to to bring business into.
CW: Is that something you hope to push in your meetings next week? What do you hope to get out of those?
JK: I don't know that I'd say push. I'm going to rely a lot on input from the Cecil business leaders. They've been business leaders. I've worked in the private sector as an engineer for 33 years. And so I'm going to rely on the people that have been on the ground and have been doing the work and take their advice and their opinion. But as much as I can, I will be encouraging, pushing that kind of economic development. The fiscal health of the county is very important across the entire spectrum of the county, as far as quality of life goes.
CW: In a recent county council meeting, they stated that the county may lose as much as $12 million in income tax receipts. How would you plan to accommodate a budget hit that size?
JK: It's probably the worst time possible to take a new job as the county executive. The current budget sits at slightly over $330 million. If we can keep 10 percent of our operating budget and rainy day fund, we can keep our bond rating up. And that's something I'm really going to strive for. I don't see any need to raise taxes. However, I do feel — it sounds good, and I think everyone agrees that cutting taxes would be great, but I think in the current situation that we're in, especially with the $12 million hit to the budget, that it would be highly irresponsible to cut taxes right now. We would really burn through our rainy day fund in short order — I predict in a year and a half or less. And as such, then we'll lose our bond rating. And when we lose our bond rating, then the county has a harder time procuring loans, that makes getting grants harder. All around it's just the downward spiral. What we have playing in our favor, going back to some of the businesses and enterprises that County Executive McCarthy has brought into the county, is a lot of their deals are coming to an end, and they're going to have to start paying more taxes. So accounting will actually be seeing some more revenue on that front. I think we can use that to ride out this downturn that, quite frankly, is a direct result of the pandemic. It's nobody's fault. It's a horrible, horrible thing that's happened. But I think we can get through it. I think we can get through it without depleting our rainy day fund. And I think, with my plan, we can keep our bond rating up to a level that will work well for the county.
CW: Do you have ideas about where you would want to take money now that's being currently distributed in a way that you would say is uneven?
JK: I have not looked at the budget, and I've not micromanaged the budget to that level. There are heads of departments that handle a lot of that. I'm sure we could responsibly find areas in the budget that we can be more efficient in, in how we run the government and how that budget is applied. I can guarantee you that the policemen, the firemen, and the schools will not see detrimental budget actions whatsoever.
CW: In light of national demonstrations against racism and brutality in policing, what do you think about groups in Cecil County calling for police reforms?
JK: I think the way they're going about it seems to be peaceful and reasonable. The message that I've gotten from some of these groups is that they want reform, but the reform they want is taking a lot of the burden off of the police officers, because they're not specifically trained to handle situations that social services can handle — suicide calls, mental health issues, things like that. And if we can address those issues in our society with trained professionals, we're going to be utilizing the money we have in a more efficient manner, and it's going to take a burden off of the police force. And the citizens will be getting better services, because they'll be getting addressed by professionals that are used to handling the situations that are arising.
CW: One thing these groups are calling for is to ban the use of chokeholds in the Elkton Police Department. Another thing that they're pushing for is to have a voice in the selection of the next police chief in Elkton. To what degree would you support either of those?
JK: I understand both of those demands, and I would work with the current police officers, their union and their chief for the ban of chokeholds. I know that you have to walk a tightrope because if a police officer is in a life threatening situation, and their life is truly threatened, I don't want to punish them for using whatever means is possible to save their life. As such, I'd like to find a middle ground where we could possibly have it written in the operating manuals of the police officers that chokeholds are not to be used. It's difficult to say, 'except as a last resort,' because we're all human beings and if somebody uses it, if an officer uses it in an inappropriate manner, who's to say if it was a last resort or not? We get into a he said, she said situation. So I would really have to work with the police chief and the police union to see if we can find a middle ground on that. I don't see any reason why the citizens shouldn't at least have a voice in selecting a police chief. I think that decision should remain within the police force, and whatever means are in place to select that police chief, because they're selecting really a coworker that's going to be their boss, and so they probably have a better understanding of who the best candidate is. But I see no harm in having them also hear the voice of the citizens and getting some input from them.
CW: Do you think politics have become too partisan?
JK: Absolutely. At the federal level, at the national level, they sure have, and there's a push, there's segments of our society that are trying to push that all the way down to the local level, but I don't believe that partisan politics has any place at the county level. We're all neighbors, we're friends, we see each other in the stores, we work with each other. I don't care if you have an R or D after your name, or an I, or a G. When I get elected, I'll work with you on the county council. I'm going to ignore whatever letter is behind your name, and I would hope that those serving on the county council and elsewhere in the local government would ignore that as well and do what's best for the citizens of Cecil County. And to bring partisan politics into how this county is run is just — it's foolhardy, and it really has no business at this level. We should be able to work together. Quite frankly, a lot of the divide that we see in the media are issues that cannot be addressed at the county level anyhow. And so why fall onto that bandwagon and create a situation where we're not going to be able to accomplish anything because we're bickering over stuff that we have no control over. I would like to get rid of that attitude of us versus them at the county level. Like I said — we're neighbors, we're friends, we see each other in the store, we work together.
CW: Is there something that you think most Republicans or conservatives do agree with or believe in that you are interested in learning more about or reaching across the aisle to work on?
JK: Again, a lot of that a lot of what's happening at the national level won't even be doesn't even get addressed at the local level. Law, the budget issues, and things like that — yeah, I'll reach across the aisle and I'll work with the Republicans and any other members of the county council that aren't in the Democratic Party. I'll work with them so that we can put the best plan forward for Cecil County.
CW: Do you have anything you would want to follow up on from what we've been saying, or any final thoughts?
JK: Actually before my final thoughts, I would like to address the quality of life issues that we're facing in this county. And one of the big ones is the opioid crisis. I heard my opponent say that she would address that by working to get better treatment in the prisons. Quite frankly, that's closing the gate after the horses have already left. The problem needs to be addressed far before it reaches the point where the addict is in prison. I want to create opportunities for people. I want to create jobs. I want employment, better education and schooling, after school programs, recreational programs, and opportunities and give people hope so that they don't turn to that life as a means of trying to self-medicate through life. Of course, I'm coming in where the horse has already left the gate, so I also will focus on getting better treatment and working with the social services and House of Hope and other entities to facilitate a better and more successful means of treatment, where once they step away from treatment and aren't sitting face to face with the counselor, they don't go back to their old ways, that they have tools available to them to move forward in life and to be able to see how much more they will be able to get out of life once they've put their addiction behind them.
As far as between now and November 3. You're gonna see, you're gonna see my campaign ramping up, you're gonna see more of a presence from me. I don't want to give away a whole lot of strategic information, but you're gonna hear a lot more from me between now and November 3. Hopefully not so much that you get tired of hearing from me. I very much appreciate you giving me the opportunity to come down here and talk with you. I look forward to serving the county and to improve in what's already a great county. I love Cecil County. I love everything about it from the bay to the farms to the natural resource areas. Perryville, Rising Sun, North East, Chesapeake City, Elkton — they're all great little towns. They're the little towns that, when you're on vacation and traveling, you walk through and you come back home and say, 'I was in such a quaint little town.' Cecil County has it all, and I look forward to improving on what Cecil County has and addressing the areas of Cecil County that could use some help.