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This week from our pages in history

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Cecil Whig first edition

ELKTON — Each week, we take a look back in time to examine what was on the minds of Cecil County readers. Rotating through the Whig’s 178-year history, we hope to not only provide direct text from our archives, but also context as to why the issue was important at the time.

Join us as we thumb through the pages of our history.

52 years ago (Feb. 28, 1968)

This short story was tucked away in the inside pages of the Whig more than 50 years ago, but is representative of its times. Attitudes about sex were still a bit antiquated despite the social revolutions underway. This arrest of a man for possessing pornography was just a few years after the 1964 Supreme Court ruling that established the oft-quoted mantra of “I know it when I see it,” in regards to what is deemed obscene. It wouldn’t be until 1973 that a subsequent ruling paved the way for pornography to become more legally acceptable.

FBI arrest car driver

A Baltimore County resident was arrested last week on the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway by FBI agents and charge with carrying obscene materials across state lines.

David Apple, 53, the operator of the Winslow Inn on Marley Neck Road, was supposedly carrying 1,000 reels of obscene film, 400 decks of playing cards, and 350 booklets in his car.

He was freed on $1,000 bail after hearing before a United States commissioner in Baltimore.

According to Lt. Robert Y. Wolfe, commander of the state police on the toll road, the FBI stopped Apple at the toll facilities, near Perryville, after following him from New York City.

27 years ago (Feb. 23, 1993)

Questions were raised a quarter century ago about the involvement of a county official in the development of the Canal Town Village senior living center.

Is Grayson Abbott in conflict of interest?

Grayson Abbott’s colleagues on the Cecil Board of Commissioners have questioned his judgment in undertaking the controversial Canal Town Village elderly housing project.

“When I found out that Mr. Abbott was getting involved in the project, my initial reaction was shock,“ said commissioners president W. Edwin Cole Jr. “I don’t think he’s doing anything legally or morally wrong here. But if I were in Mr. Abbott‘s place, I wouldn’t have done it. To some people, it just doesn’t look right. “

Slated for a Hemphill Street property in North Chesapeake City, Canal Town Village has been on the drawing board for about five years. And by agreeing to go to low-income apartments through his private development company, Abbott has given new hope to a project that appear doomed two months ago.

Originally, a nonprofit corporation planned to develop the project using Farmer’s Home Administration (FmHA) funds. But because of various delays, those plans fell by the wayside.

Then, the nonprofit group decided to try a different route — Maryland state government’s Rural Rental Housing Partnership program.

But that program required the sponsorship of local government. After an aborted attempt to make the town the sponsor, the nonprofit corporation turn to Cecil County government.

Under an alternative plan approved by the commissioners, the county would have owned the state-funded complex. The commissioner-appointed housing authority would’ve managed its affairs.

But that plan was thrown into limbo in late November when state, county, and town officials failed to agree on fee and tax issues.

In mid December, Abbott — a developer who exclusively builds FmHA-financed apartment complexes for the elderly and low-income families — wrote to the Cecil County Ethics Commission and asked if his private involvement in the project would be a conflict of interest.

“Immediately after the state plan fell through, I was contacted by the people involved in the Canal Town Village nonprofit corporation,” Abbott said. “They asked me to do this project and before I did anything else, I knew I had to go to the ethics board. I wanted everything to be out in the open.“

The three-member ethics board, appointed by the county commissioners, basically found at Abbott would not be in violation of the county ethics law as long as county government isn’t involved in the project.

However, two of the three board members have political or personal ties to the Democratic commissioner. Ethics board chairman Christopher Eastridge is a member of the elected Cecil County Democratic Central Committee. And board member Stephen Baker has served as Abbott’s personal and business attorney.

But Eastridge adamantly denies that those ties had any effect on the board’s decision.

“We are charged with giving opinions based on the county ethics law,“ he noted. “The ethics law is not as comprehensive as some people might think. And it’s not as comprehensive as some people might want it to be.

“In our letter to Mr. Abbott, we pointed out some provisions that might apply to his case,“ Eastridge added. “At this time, it doesn’t appear that the Canal Town project will be in conflict with those provisions. The board — no matter who the members are — couldn’t have come to a different conclusion. The law is clear. “

In his letter to Abbott regarding the board’s decision, Eastridge cited a section of the law that says “county officials may not use the prestige of their office for their own benefit for that of another. “

While Abbott may not be in violation of that provision, commissioner A. Marie Cleek is concerned about the public’s perception.

“We are guided by the board of ethics,“ she said. “And the board of ethics said Grayson isn’t it violating the law here. But I am concerned about the perception. I have received more than a few phone calls from citizens on this matter. And in my opinion, perception is reality.

“I think a Cecil commissioner has to have the trust and respect other people,“ she continued. “And sometimes you must hold even higher standards than what it spelled out in the ethics law. I have tried to live by that. “

Cole said he also lives by a higher standard.

“I am involved in the auction business,“ he said. “But I would never perform an auction on the courthouse steps. It just wouldn’t look right to walk a few steps out of the commissioner’s office to do an auction. Legally, I could do it. But I wouldn’t want to stir up the controversy that would accompany that kind of thing. “

Abbott said he strongly considered the conflict of interest question before he agreed to take over the project.

“Sure, I wrestled with that question,“ he said. “I knew there would be controversy. But I had to weigh the alternatives. And I feel good about the decision I made. I’m hoping the town of Chesapeake city and the elderly people who need housing. “

Abbott refuses to estimate how much he’ll make from the project. He said the profit margin in elderly housing varies from project to project.

Earlier this month, the Chesapeake City Town Council recognized Abbott is the general partner in a new for-profit Canal Town corporation. The town took that action to transfer a $235,000 state community development grant from the old nonprofit corporation to Abbott.

State housing secretary Jacqueline Rogers, who has been a vociferous advocate for elderly housing in Chesapeake City, endorsed the move.

“I don’t see any conflict of interest here,“ she said. “We have no qualms about transferring the grant. In our eyes, the most important point is that much-needed senior housing will be built in that part of Cecil County. I think Mr. Abbott is it admirable for taking on this project. “

The nonprofit group used about $210,000 of the grant money to purchase the 10-acre lot on Hemphill Street. In effect, and Abbott will be getting the land free of charge.

“I was very concerned about the land issue,“ Abbott said. “But, in reality, I’m not receiving a $200,000 gift. I’ve agreed to assume $141,000 worth of debt on that property. And I’ve agreed to pay $340,000 in hookup fees to the town.

“With those kinds of cost involved, I think most developers would shy away from a project like this. But I like a challenge. And I want to make this thing work.“

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