We are all familiar with the old adage “If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck.” That is not particularly sage advice when observing the odd duck known as the Clean Chesapeake Coalition (CCC).
The CCC name looks environmental and it quacks a mission statement that sounds environmental, but it looks more like an anti-environmental hog lining up at the Kent County budget trough. Like a hog, the CCC stirs up a lot of mud and makes a great deal of unintelligible noise, but its real talent is spending our money to lobby against reasonable Watershed Improvement Plans that are designed to protect the Bay. I do not think the majority of Kent County citizens want that. The same could be said for the taxpayers of Carroll, Dorchester, Cecil, Queen Anne’s, and Caroline Counties which comprise the remainder of this “Dirty Half Dozen”.
This particular hog is the pet of Commissioner Fithian, who is also the Chair of the CCC. In past County administrations, the CCC, a pig in duck’s clothing, had pulled the wool (feathers?) over the eyes of the remaining Commissioners, and was invited to the trough where it rooted up $159,000 in Kent County taxpayer money. For 2020 they have their snouts out for an additional $17,000. This is no miniature pig. The CCC has been at the troughs of 5 additional counties for a grand total of nearly $1,000,000.
There is no way to duck the issue. An individual (including an elected official) does not need a financial interest in an organization to be in a position where a conflict of interest may arise. If you are a member of two different organizations, and you are making decisions in one organization that favorably affect a second organization, you have an apparent conflict of interest. It is generally advised that even the appearance of a conflict of interest be avoided. Is Commissioner Fithian acting in the best interests of his constituents or of the CCC? We just don’t know.
With the election of two new Commissioners last fall, one of whom I believe has some agricultural experience, there was some faint hope that the CCC would be recognized for the hog it really is, but alas, this does not appear to be the case, and the Kent County budget, as approved, contains additional CCC funding. This is even after concerned citizens requested a hearing be held to determine whether CCC has provided any benefits to the County. No such hearing was held. Neither did Commissioner Fithian recuse himself from voting on the budget.
But then again, the CCC appears to be a “stealth pig” in the FY2020 Budget. In previous years, there was a line item for the CCC, but the FY2020 budget has it buried in a line called “Other Conservation of Natural Resources”. Why?
In the generally transparent briefing given on the budget on June 4, 2019, there was a discussion (slide 17) of increases in the recurring expense category “Allocations”. This increase totaled about $67,000, but in slide 20, near the bottom was a nearly unreadable line (in the printed version) showing an INCREASE of $8,000 for the CCC. I suspect that may be on top of the $9,000 they were allocated in FY2019. In reality, in FY2019 CCC received $17,000, because the Maryland Waterman’s Association turned back $8,000, which was passed along to the CCC. Do we know a Commissioner that has close ties to both the MWA and CCC?
I know $17,000 is not a significant part of the County’s $50,000,000 budget. But it is interesting to see the County raising the income tax, while poor-mouthing its way around its embarrassingly low contribution to Kent County Public Schools, as well as declining to provide tax relief for the residents of Chestertown and Rock Hall for County services they are taxed for, but do not receive. Curiously, the Commissioners find the money to not only continue to feed the CCC hog, but to actually increase its allocation. In 2018 Wicomico County saw the light and deleted all CCC funding from its $148,000,000 budget as part of cost-cutting measures.
I am old enough to remember Groucho Marx and the quiz show “You Bet Your Life”. When a contestant said the “secret word” a duck would drop down with a cash prize. In the Kent County version of the game, called “You Bet Your Tax Dollars”, when the host, Ronnie, says the secret word (I wish the rest of us knew what it was), a feathered pig drops down, and the CCC gets $17,000.
For the record, I do not have school-aged children, nor do I live in Chestertown borough or Rock Hall.