The incoming Cecil County executive's decision to switch her party registration from Republican to independent Thursday has become a major flashpoint at the state GOP convention in Howard County this weekend, exposing a gaping split in party ranks.

Tari Moore, who was elected Nov. 6 as Cecil's first executive under charter government, confirmed Friday that she had changed her registration -- less than four weeks after winning election under the Republican banner and with financial support from the state GOP.

Moore said she would give a full explanation of her reasons when she is worn in Monday.

"This is a decision that's been very difficult and has been done with a great deal of thought and prayer," she said.

Moore's thoughts and prayers were hardly comforting to her Republican senator, Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin.

"It's deceitful. It's dishonest. She needs to step aside," Pipkin said. "She needs to pay back the money the party put out on her behalf and she should apologize."

However, GOP sources said the issue is more complicated than a simple case of party-bolting over ideological issues. To some degree, Moore's switch appears to be a stategic move made for strictly local reasons. But with the GOP gathering Saturday at Turf Valley for its post-election convention, the Cecil controversy has become a proxy battle between Pipkin and his longtime party rival, U.S. Rep. Andrew Harris (R, 1st).

The controversy could come to a head at the convention Saturday afternoon, when Moore's critics hope to offer a resolution backing Pipkin's call for her resignation. 

Cecil Republicans say the root of Moore's switch is the question of who will fill the Cecil council seat Moore is leaving to take the executive post. Her election, they said, will leave a 2-2 split between her supporters and critics. By becoming an independent before her swearing-in, she said, she will take the decision of who will replace her out of the hands of the county Republican Central Committee and switch that power to the county council.

If the council were to deadlock at 2-2 over her successor, Moore would be able to cast the tie-breaking vote, party sources said. That would give her a working majority to govern the county, county sources said.

Cecil Republicans said the couny central committee is dominated by supporters of Pipkin and Del. Michael Smigiel Sr., a Cecil Republican.

Harris, who supported Moore in a contested primary, said he had no problem with Moore's decision to change affiliation. He said he was confident she would soon return to the party fold.

"Tari Moore is a good Republican and I think at some time she will,," Harris said.