Demanding Journalistic Integrity in Cecil County
Anyone who tries to stay current on what is happening in Cecil County likely has a variety of sources that they check for local news. Although the last few years saw the end of the Cecil Guardian and the Rising Sun Herald as print journalism declined, a variety of online sources have emerged. As the barrier for publication became eliminated by the internet, legacy media either died or moved to online platforms to compete for readership. At the same time, social media allowed individuals to publish developments faster than any news outlet could, and it began to emerge as a common venue for the exchange of public information.
As the way we consume news changed, so did the sources and the scrutiny of the information we read. With a variety of options comes varying quality, and any Cecil County resident who has searched for multiple sources knows that some outlets are more reliable than others. Take for example the Cecil Times. Even at a cursory glance your average reader could quickly dismiss it as more fact-free blogging than news. It is widely known to be the propaganda arm of the Cecil Business Leaders PAC and served as a mouthpiece for the McCarthy administration and fellow cronies. Despite having been largely written off as the ramblings of an out of touch CBL sycophant, the Cecil Times continues to produce content for all three of its readers.
Articles from the Cecil Times often go unchallenged mainly because they often go unread, but every now and then they produce an article so riddled with half-truths and lies that the contents of the article must be addressed. In a recent piece regarding the September 7th County Council Legislative Session the Cecil Times attempted to opine on the events leading up to the newly formed Redistricting Commission. Attempted and opine being the operative words as the article failed to present hardly any materially relevant information, and because it contains more bitterness, lies, and deception than facts.
The article starts by setting the scene of the September 7th Legislative Session where Council President Bob Meffley was using his gavel to try and silence a speaker during the public comment period. But the story doesn’t start there. In advance of the September 7th Legislative Session the Council failed to include on the meeting agenda that the resolution for the Redistricting Commission appointments was going to be introduced, nor did they make the resolution publicly available in advance of the meeting, both of which are violations of the Open Meetings Act. Trying to silence the only person there who happened to be present to speak out about the Redistricting Commission only further implicates the Council’s motives to hide the process from public scrutiny. Neglecting to provide this context makes this scene seem one sided.
In the same paragraph the article says that this scene was:
“…nothing compared to the belligerent battle waged by Vincent Sammons, the chair of the local GOP Central Committee, who wanted to override county law to claim a seat on a Redistricting Commission… that both the County Charter and the authorizing legislation enacted by the Council in April to establish the local commission specified that any “elected” official could not be seated on the redistricting panel.”
If the title and tone of the article didn’t initially make the reader suspicious of the author’s partiality, hyperbolic word choice like “belligerent” “battle” and “override” quickly removes all doubt. Aside from a stylistic critique, the content in this excerpt is also lacking. First, the legislation restates the County Charter, so implying that Vincent Sammons is trying to “override” multiple statutes is misleading. Second, the author fails to mention the distinction between a public official and a party official. Vincent Sammons, in his capacity as the Chairman of the GOP Cecil County Central Committee was a party official, meaning he was selected by and works for his party, not the public. Other articles have thoroughly examined this distinction and the case law and statutes will not be repeated here, but suffice it to say that the evidence and legal opinions rendered overwhelmingly reject the notion that a party official would conform to the standard of an “elected” official as laid out in the charter.
After obfuscating and misleading the reader, the article then goes on to flat out lie when it says that:
“[the Republican]Central Committee had not submitted a full slate of five GOP candidates to the County Council, as required, this summer and instead had listed “to be determined” instead of actual names for several GOP seats.
Vincent Sammons, when he was chair of the Central Committee, submitted a full slate of appointees on March 16th. Two weeks before the April 1st deadline, and without prompting from the County Council. Not only is this a lie, but it is especially pernicious in that it covers up that the Council is actually the one that “belligerently” violated the Charter. The author not only fails to mention that the Charter mandates that the Council appoint a Redistricting Commission by April 1st, but instead falsely claims that the list was required to be submitted this summer. Two patently false statements. Secondly, the author claims that the list that an incomplete list was submitted, and “several” seats were left open. This is again a lie. The resolution that was posted when it was going to be initially introduced listed the District 4 and District 5 seats on the republican slate as TBD. However, this was because the Council removed Vincent Sammons name and the District 4 appointees name, not because there was not a full slate provided. Using the word “several” to describe two slots aside, this is a malicious lie since it shifts the blame that should be placed on Bob Meffley and the Council.
Further down in the article it states that:
“Sammons wanted to hold on to his seat as the chairman of the GOP Central Committee while also serving on the Redistricting Commission and he filed a personal lawsuit on 8/30/2021 against Meffley in the county’s Circuit Court, seeking a “writ of mandamus” to let him hold onto his elected Central Committee seat while also seeking a seat on the Redistricting Commission. He claimed that because he was only elected by Republicans in a party primary, he shouldn’t be considered an “elected” official. But faced with the clear language of the Charter, Sammons suddenly resigned as chair of the GOP Central Committee on Tuesday and put his name in for a seat on the redistricting panel…”
Again, the author’s unwillingness to research, inability to understand, or intention to deceive results in another excerpt filled with duplicity and lies. Sammons did seek judicial relief and filed a writ of mandamus to have a judgement resolve the dispute between conflicting interpretations. In other words, he asked a judge to do exactly what the judicial branch is designed to do, so it is hard to see why the author would frame this case in a pejorative manner. However, the author then goes on to claim that Sammons, presumably faced with defeat and acceptance that he was an elected official, chose to resign from the Central Committee. This is not true at all. Sammons decision to resign, as made public on social media, was taken to prevent the Council from barring him from the Redistricting Commission. He did not accept the interpretation of the Council that he was an elected official, and lawsuit against the Council is still pending. In fact, cecilcounty.news obtained documentation that shows that Bob Meffley has filed for a dismissal of the lawsuit, not Sammons. The author portrays this as a last ditch effort of Sammons, when in reality it was precipitated by the Council because they refused to wait until the legal proceedings had run their course.
This article from the Times was selected to be examined not because it was a one-off that veered a little off track, but because it was a particularly egregious article and serves as an example of the kind of content routinely provided on their forum. It is a difficult balance between deciding to address the many lies and half-truths of the CBL propaganda blog known as the Cecil Times and allowing them to continue on unread and unnoticed. It is equally difficult to hold them accountable. To that end, we ask that you contact the Cecil Times and demand they retract and apologize for the lies and disinformation about important local events that they have promulgated. Please contact the author, Nancy Schwerzler at email@example.com and let her know that as Cecil County residents we will not be silenced, and we will not be slandered out of public participation. If the times has any shred of journalistic integrity they must print a retraction and issue a public apology.