Proposed farming position criticized

Councilman says liaison promotion would do little

May 07, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Members of the farming community are rushing to the defense of the county's agriculture liaison against a barrage of criticism leveled recently by county Councilman Lance C. Miller.

In a move that farmers said would boost the importance and visibility of agriculture in Harford, County Executive David R. Craig has recommended in his proposed budget for next year that the liaison be elevated to a deputy chief of staff position in his Cabinet. The change would include a $17,000 salary increase to $75,000.

Miller opposes the move, saying it bloats the administrative ranks while doing little to increase benefits that weren't available under the current post.

But he has also taken several verbal shots at C. John Sullivan III, who holds the position. Miller, a Republican who represents District D, said Craig was giving out promotions like "candy."

"If you're going to give out candy, at least give it to someone who can take off the wrapper," Miller said at a recent council meeting.

The comments stunned Sullivan, 33, who has the backing of the Harford County Farm Bureau. He has received a gush of support from farmers who have called for an increase in the presence of agriculture in county government.

"It's what the farm community asked for," Sullivan said. "The agriculture community has to deal with numerous agencies, and in this new position, they can make one call to the county executive's office."

At a brief public hearing on the proposed $740 million budget last week at Bel Air High School, officials appeared to outnumber citizens.

But of those who stood to speak, the majority supported Sullivan. They included the president of the farm bureau, Candace Lohr, and past presidents Robert Tibbs and Lee McDaniel.

In a letter, John and Andrea Rigdon of Rigdon Farms in Jarrettsville praised Sullivan's "diligent" work in improving farm market opportunities for agricultural products and educating schoolchildren about agriculture.

Henry Holloway, owner of The Mill, said Miller's criticism was unfounded and seemed to come from a personal vendetta. He credited Sullivan with informing farmers of a possible change in the permitting process for farm buildings, and for putting farming at the top of the county's agenda.

The position, currently under the office of economic development, focuses on agricultural marketing, promotions and awareness, Sullivan said. Sullivan's father, C. John Sullivan Jr., was the county's director of assessments and now heads the state assessments department.

Miller, a former president of the farm bureau who grew up working on his family farm in Darlington, said the farming community has a misperception of what the change would accomplish.

"They're being fed the line that this position, bumping the salary up and putting them on the third floor [instead of the first], will help the agricultural community," Miller said.

He also said he resented that Craig already has made the moves he is requesting.

Sullivan has been working from the county executive's office for the past several months. His present title is deputy chief of staff for agricultural affairs.

Sullivan fired back at Miller, saying that although the councilman sits on the agricultural advisory board as a council representative, he hasn't participated in years.

Miller retorted, "The bottom line is, I don't need to sit at a meeting once a month to know what the agriculture community wants. I can find a farm other than a winery or a nursery. I can go to a dairy farm and ask a question."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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