Cecil Commissioners’ Forum: Democrats Sing from Different Songbooks

August 31, 2010

   It was the Democrats’ turn to face off at a forum for county Commissioner candidates Monday night, with 4th District primary opponents Carl Roberts and Wayne Tome offering strikingly different assessments of the state of the county and its future.

  But it was Commissioner Brian Lockhart, D-3, who is unopposed in his party’s primary, who offered the biggest surprise of the night. First, that he appeared at the forum, sponsored by the Cecil County Patriots (the local arm of the “tea party” movement) and second, that he said the commissioners are considering privatization of other county-owned assets and services, beyond the pending sale of certain county water and sewer operations to the private Artesian company. In a post-forum interview with Cecil Times, Lockhart said the commissioners are considering privatization of landfill and jail operations.

   Also speaking at the forum was Earl Piner, Sr., who is unopposed in his party’s primary for the Dist. 2 commissioner seat. Piner was a long-time Elkton town commissioner, a former county school board member, and a coach of sports teams at Cecil College and in local youth programs.

   The Patriots’ group again enlisted a moderator from the non-partisan Toastmasters’ International organization who read a list of questions, drafted with input from county residents who responded to a request for suggested questions for the candidates. In the contested primary race, Roberts and Tome appeared together to answer questions and were able to respond to each other, while Piner and Lockhart each appeared alone. All candidates appeared together at the end of the two hour program to offer closing statements.

    The Patriots’ group held a separate forum several weeks ago for Republican commissioner candidates, although three candidates affiliated with the “Young Republicans Club” boycotted the event. Read the Cecil Times report here:   https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/candidates-forum-civility-and-cliffs-notes-for-cecil-county-issues/

   During Monday’s forum,  there was a glass half-empty, glass half-full disparity between Roberts, the former superintendent of county schools, and Tome, a Baltimore County professional firefighter manager and the former mayor of Port Deposit who was elected to the county board four years ago.

  Roberts outlined his assessment of the dire state of the county’s economy and its over-reliance on residential property taxes for revenues. He warned that next year’s budget would be even more difficult than this year’s since property assessements by the state have been reduced due to falling home prices, and the county will be hard-pressed to come up with the revenues needed to pay for essential services.

   “We need to dramaticallty change he way we govern, the way we lead,” Roberts said. He called for creation of a detailed “strategic plan”  to provide a roadmap for dealing with the current recession but also to  create a framework for business and economic development to fundamentally change the way the county obains the revenues it needs to support public services. “We’re late, we’re behind the eight-ball,” Roberts said, and the current reliance on residential property taxes to supply 61 percent of revenues should be downsized to about 55 percent.

   Tome said the county was “doing well with economic development” despite the recession. He said the current commissioners had worked hard to find solutions to the need for infrastructure in the growth corridor, between I-95 and Route 40, and the Artisian sale would finally bring utilities to the area without costing taxpayers. He noted that the county was also poised to put in place agreements to provide infrastructure to serve the long-stalled Bainbridge project in the northwestern part of the county and also a franchise agreement with a Delaware firm to bring natural gas services to the growth area.

    “The records speaks for itself,” Tome said. “I’m here asking for four more years.”

     Tome said state and federal aid, possibly through homeland security programs, could ease the county’s fiscal problems and to help get the long-stalled Bainbridge project on track. He also said the anticipated revenues of $3 million in the current fiscal year from the new slots parlor in Perryville could  be used to “finesse” the county’s budget  problems.

     But Roberts shot back, “Nobody’s going to bail us out…there’s no federal dollars coming, no state money coming” and the county must “solve our own problems.”

      At one point, Roberts took a shot at himself, saying he had heard critics say he should “smile more.”  So he smiled. “I do laugh, I do smile, I do have a sense of humor,” he said. And if people think he is “not collaborative” with others, then they should talk with the many county business groups he worked with over the years to develop partnerships for educational programs.

     Meanwhile, Lockhart, who is seeking re-election to his second term on the board, defended the planned sale of county water and sewer facilities to Artesian, a deal that is currently under challenge in a lawsuit brought by a citizens’ group.  And he said the county would continue to “pursue privatization of other assets that the county government has.” He said the county has to keep cutting expenses and “we’re going to continue to cut taxes.” (This year, the county cut the property tax rate to the so-called “constant yield” rate, which means the county must live with the same amount of revenues as it had in the previous budget year.)

    After the forum, Lockhart told Cecil Times that he wants to see the county jail turned over to a private contractor. The county just broke ground on a multi-million dollar expansion and modernization of the jail. He said the county would own the facility but hire a private contractor to run it and hire its own employees to guard inmates.

    He also called for privatization of county landfill operations. County commissioners came under fire from citizens this year after imposing a new recycling fee and higher trash drop-off  fees, as well as sharply reduced hours of operation at the landfill and two county trash transfer stations.

     Lockhart’s appearance at the Patriots’ forum, held at the VFW hall in North East, was his first question-and-answer candidates forum appearance since he first ran for office four years ago.  He has stayed away from organized forums in the past, saying he preferred one-on-one contacts with individual voters.

     Piner emphasized his involvement with the community during his comments at Monday’s forum, saying he could sit down and work with disparate groups and hammer out a compromise solution. He also refused to “guarantee” that taxes would not be raised on his watch. “I hope not to raise taxes,” he said, but the local economy is “going into a dive” and new sources of revenue must be found, especially through business development.

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Sheriff’s Race: Skip DeWitt Runs Slow but Steady, with $ in the Bank

August 30, 2010

   Robert “Skip” DeWitt has been running a low-key, door-to-door campaign for the Democratic nomination for Cecil County Sheriff and his campaign fund-raising and spending reflects a back-to-basics style. Some donors may be hedging their bets on his prospects in the primary against his much better-financed rival, Chris Sutton.

    DeWitt was a late entrant into the Democratic primary campaign, while Sutton has been officially campaigning for more than a year. DeWitt’s recent campaign finance report to the state Board of Elections shows he has raised $7,275 and spent $5,044, leaving him with  $2,231 cash on hand. That’s a lot more than Sutton had in the bank– just $24– according to his campaign report,  despite the fact that Sutton has raised a total of $66,129 for his campaign.

 [The Cecil Times will be posting  a separate report on Sutton’s campaign finance filings.]

   DeWitt’s spending report reflects the style of his campaign: just printing for yard signs, a dozen campaign shirts for volunteers, and the costs of a modest pit beef fundraiser. He has spent a total of $5,044. No billboards and just one small newspaper ad to promote his fundraiser. In the final few weeks before the Sept. 14 primary, DeWitt could tap into his bank balance for some last-minute signs or ads.

   DeWitt has received $4,775 in direct contributions and earned $2,500 from purchases of fundraiser tickets. He received two large donations of $1,000 each from Fay Weaver of Elkton and Larry Dales, of Naples, Fla. Weaver is the president of Weaver’s Liquors on Route 40 and in the past has given small donations to other Democratic candidates. We found no local connection for Dales, just a picture of him visiting a Florida tribal casino as a customer that was published in a Florida newspaper.

  [UPDATE: DeWitt told The Cecil Times that Dales was the chief deputy to his father, the late Jack DeWitt, who served for many years as Cecil County sheriff. “He’s an old family friend and we have stayed in touch over the years,” DeWitt said.]

  DeWitt’s fundraising includes mostly small donations  and ticket purchases from individuals and local businesses.

  But we found an interesting both sides donation. DeWitt received $200 from Real Trust Associates, of North East. That real estate firm is owned by Norm Wehner, who is well-known in local Republican and realty circles, and his wife.  But Norm Wehner also personally donated a total of $200 to incumbent Republican Sheriff Barry Janney in this election season. Wehner has routinely contributed to local Republican candidates in past elections but state records show no  previous donations to Democrats.

  UPDATE: DeWitt told Cecil Times that he and Wehner have been friends for about 25 years and that “he believes in me and in my plans for the Sheriff’s Department.”  DeWitt added that he expected he would receive “many more donations from Republicans” after the primary.]

For DeWitt, the primary is make-or-break and most political pundits would urge him to pour his remaining campaign funds into the final days of the primary contest, with the expectation that if he were to score an upset in the primary, donors would come out of the woodwork to support him in a general election contest.

 But DeWitt has been running his own style of campaigning, following in the footsteps of his late father, who used to take his son on the campaign trail and focused on making a personal connection with voters.  DeWitt has been going door-to-door with family members, covering a wide swath of the county with personal contacts. But in a concession to the modern era, Dewitt has established a campaign website, www.dewittforsheriff.com that reflects his modest campaign style and he is also on Facebook.

[UPDATE: DeWitt said that last weekend he knocked on over 500 doors in the county and is averaging 100 or so homes a night. “I’ve already worn through one pair of sneakers,” he said with a laugh.

   He said he is deliberately holding back some of his campaign funds for a general election campaign and has already paid for most of his advertising that will be printed through the primary. “The day after I win the primary, I’m going to be ready to go forward,” he said. “I’m looking for victory in November.”]


Sheriff’s Race: Slater Picks up the Pace; Latecomers Penniless

August 27, 2010

  Dan Slater, a candidate for Cecil County Sheriff in the Republican primary,  picked up the pace of his fundraising and broadened his financial appeal to voters throughout the county in recent months. But going into the Sept. 14 primary, his campaign is all but broke and poorly positioned for a general election campaign.

  Slater is the leading Republican primary challenger to incumbent Sheriff Barry Janney, who in the past has raised up to six figures in his  well-funded campaigns.

  Slater got an early start on his uphill battle last year and in January filed his first campaign finance report. As  The Cecil Times reported in January here: https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/slater-for-cecil-county-sheriff-gop-challenger-is-poor/ Slater’s initial fundraising report showed he had concentrated his fundraising efforts in his North East area homebase. He raised a total of $5,965 but spent $4,813, leaving him with nearly $1,152 in the bank.

  In his latest campaign report, Slater has picked up the pace, and geography, of his campaign fundraising. Since January, he raised $7,805, including $3,435 in direct contributions and $4,370 in tickets sold to fundraising events. 

 Among his events were a barbeque held in Crystal Beach, in the southern Cecil County community of Earleville. That event scored him some political points, if not a big cash benefit, since southern Cecil residents often feel slighted by candidates running countywide.    Slater also held a bullroast at the Wellwood in Charlestown and raffled off a shotgun to raise money for his campaign.

  The largest donor to the Slater campaign is RKB Investments, LLC,  of Rising Sun. The business entity donated $200 in July, after previously donating $1,000 to the campaign as listed in Slater’s January report to the State Board of Elections. Slater also received a $500 donation from PEPCO, Inc., listed at a Water St., Charlestown address; and $200 from AMNF, Inc., of Elkton.

Slater has had a solid presence around the county with yard signs and larger signs along key highways. But that presence doesn’t come without a price.  In his latest financial statement, he reported spending $8,887 on printing, campaign materials and the costs of putting on fundraising events.

As a result, Slater has just $69.01 in the bank. That figure, about the cost of a full tank of gas in an SUV, gives him nothing to fall back on for a general election campaign against a Democrat if he were to pull off an upset victory in the GOP primary. The late primary this year gives candidates little time to reinvigorate their campaign accounts before the November general election.

 The winner of the Republican primary for Sheriff will face the winner of the Democratic primary in November. The leading candidates in the Democratic primary are Chris Sutton– a corporal in the Sheriff’s Department who ran unsuccessfully against Janney in the general election four years ago– and Robert “Skip” DeWitt, a longtime deputy and the son of the late Jack DeWitt, the widely popular Sheriff of the county for many years.

  Among other lesser-known candidates, campaign funds are short to non-existant.

 Al Michael, of North East, a former state trooper and former police chief in Rising Sun, was a late entrant into the Republican primary but has been raising his profile a bit by peppering the county with a single-spaced letter outlining his views on the issues and he appeared at a public candidate’s forum. His bare-bones campaign has been largely self-financed, with $1,911 out of his pocket to pay for signs, printing and ads. He did hold a fundraiser with $1,320 in tickets sold, but expenses of his fundraiser, at the Nauti-Goose, almost equaled the funds raised from ticket sales. So after raising $3,231, and spending $3,011, he has a cash balance of just $220 in the bank.

  The last candidate to file for Sheriff, William T. Gerczak, a Democrat from Rising Sun, filed an affadavit stating that he had not raised or spent over $1,000 on his campaign. Gerczak, a former Baltimore city police officer, filed a few hours before the July 6 deadline. There has been much speculation whether his candidacy was put forward as a “spoiler” to split opposition to Sutton in the Democratic primary and draw votes away from DeWitt, who has emerged as a strong challenger to Sutton in the primary.

Cecil Times will be posting separate articles on the Janney, Sutton and DeWitt campaigns in upcoming days. For Janney’s and Sutton’s reports, we needed to go out and buy new ink cartridges for our computer printer and are thinking of adding arm lifts of their weighty reports to our exercise routine.


36th District Candidates’ Forum: Lots of “Me, too” and a Surprise

August 19, 2010

CENTREVILLE– Candidates for the 36th District state House of Delegates and Senate seats squared off Tuesday night in a non-partisan issues forum here, with most Republican candidates saying the same things, in the same words, while Democrats had a mixed presentation that even elicited that rare commodity at a candidates’ forum: laughter.

  The forum, sponsored jointly by the Kent and Queen Anne’s counties chapters of the non-partisan League of Women Voters, drew a small crowd of about 45 people. The format of the event placed Democrats  and Republicans in separate panels so there was no back-and-forth between potential general election rivals. In the few contested primary races, rivals were allowed to respond to each others answers. But the format, which drew all questions from people in the audience who could direct which candidate should address it, left out some candidates who were not allowed to address a question if it was not aimed at them. At times, candidates not allowed to answer a question seemed to be chafing at the bit to respond, too.

  That problem was most evident in the Democratic panel discussion.  William Manlove, of Cecil County, who is unopposed in the primary and will face incumbent Republican Del. Michael Smigiel in November, was frequently excluded from answering questions posed to the two Democrats running in the party primary for the chance to challenge incumbent Republican  Sen. E.J. Pipkin in the general election. Robert Alt, the former mayor of Elkton, is running against Steven Mumford, a political newcomer from Chestertown, in the primary for Senate.

(Missing from the panel was Arthur Hock, a Democrat who is running for the Kent County seat formerly held by Mary Roe Walkup, who is retiring.)

  Mumford, who has an eclectic background as a professional dancer and operates a historic homes tour business, drew laughter several times for his comments and demonstrated a mostly solid understanding of Kent and Queen Anne’s county issues. (He didn’t address specific issues regarding Cecil County, which he visited recently to appear at a firemen’s parade, waving a colonial tri-cornered hat.)  Perhaps because expectations were low, his performance at the forum was a surprise.

  On the state budget crisis, Mumford quipped, “Maybe Sen. Pipkin can help us out– he’s a multi-millionaire”  and on whether an additional Bay Bridge crossing is needed to ease traffic congestion, he joked that as a swimming instructor he would provide lessons to anyone willing to make the crossing by water, before discussing the issues seriously.

   Mumford was knowledgable on a key local issue: the “FASTC” project that would have brought a federal State Department security training center to a large Queen Anne’s County farm. The project was initially welcomed by local officials but they backpedaled after pressure brought by local anti-growth groups and the federal government withdrew the proposal.   Mumford said that while the 400 or so jobs the facility would have brought to Queen Anne’s were “lost” to that county, the project might still be salvaged and located in Kent or Caroline counties in the 36th District. He said he had talked with local economic development officials who were working with some local farmers interested in offering their property for the facility. “It’s not a dead issue yet,” he said.

  Alt, his primary opponent, admitted he was not up to speed on the issue and said, “I don’t know much about this issue but I’ll try to learn more.” (In comments posted on our short Tuesday night bulletin on the forum, Alt said he has researched the issue further and said it was a tough issue to address at the state level and was best decided by the county government.)

  Manlove said he had “mixed emotions” about weighing the “property rights” of the farmer to sell his land and the jobs the project would create against his concerns that a large farm would be taken out of production, when he has fought for years to preserve agriculture.

  Several questions posed to the Democrats focused on environmental issues, with Manlove outlining his efforts while President of the Cecil County Commissioners to promote “smart growth” policies to limit development in rural areas, keep farms in business and improve water quality through modernization of sewage systems. At one point, the former dairy farmer took exception to a suggestion that farmers were at fault for water pollution: “I resent blaming farmers for all the runoff,” Manlove said, listing other causes such as pavement run-off and failing sewage and septic systems.

  Alt cited his experience working to upgrade municipal wastewater treatment systems. He said a key issue for the state to address is the growing problem of  “saltwater infiltration into drinking water wells” in rural areas on the Shore.

  Alt also offered a suggestion for easing the chronic traffic congestion on Kent Island and Route 50: eliminate the eastbound tolls during peak travel times to end bottlenecks caused by backups at the toll plaza.

   On job creation, Alt said he had “knocked on doors” to bring business to Elkton and would do the same as a state Senator, working with town and county governments in a coordinated effort.  He emphasized his campaign platform to improve communication between local government and the state delegation. (Smigiel and Pipkin have had particularly strained relations with the Cecil County government in recent years.) Mumford, citing his membership in the Screen Actors Guild, said the state should promote the film industry and improve tax breaks to movie companies to shoot films here. Manlove was not allowed to answer the question.

   During the Republican portion of the forum, incumbents Smigiel and Pipkin were joined by incumbent Del. Richard Sossi, who represents Queen Anne’s County. Sossi is being opposed in the Republican primary by Stephen S. Hershey, Jr., who also attended the event. (No Democrats have filed for the Queen Anne’s County seat.) Pipkin is facing a GOP primary challenge from Donald Alcorn, but he did not attend the forum. Also present was Jay Jacobs, the mayor of Rock Hall who is running for the Walkup seat against Democrat Hock.

   The Republicans took pretty much the same position on the issues, often using the same words. On FASTC, most said it was a matter  of “property rights” and something to be decided by county government, with the state delegation having no role to play. But Hershey added that FASTC, and another Wye Mills project opposed by environmentalists, showed “The delegation does need to step in and push these types of projects. ”

    Pipkin offered a spirited defense of his environmental record when a questioner asked about his poor ratings on scorecards of the Maryland League of Conservation voters, which has given him marks of zero to below 40 percent in recent years. He cited his work as a private citizen to stop dumping of dredge spoil material in the Bay off Kent  Island and his work in the recent legislative session to bar dumping of rubble fill. He said he was penalized on the scorecard because he opposed a solar energy bill that “sounds nice” but in fact was “crony capitalism” that would have cost consumers millions.

   The most varied responses came to a broad question: what issue is your top priority to benefit the 36th District.

   Smigiel declared that it was to change the state Constitution. He said he wanted to allow local referendum voting on any local tax increase, and to clarify that local government condemnation of property through eminent domain could only be for public uses, like a school. (Smigiel and Pipkin have been at war this year with the Cecil County Commissioners and tried but failed to pass legislation in Annapolis to mandate what property tax levels the county could set.)

   Jacobs took a more down-to-earth approach: stem the “exodus” of small business from the Shore through lower taxes and incentives to encourage entrepeneurship in the area. Pipkin said his priority was to rein in government spending and cut property taxes and he also urged action to lower utility bills. Hershey declared that the “liberal majority in Annapolis” must be stopped and the corporate income tax should be cut.

    Sossi took a broader approach, saying “We dont have the luxury of picking just one issue” to focus on. He said job creation was crucial, through small business incentives and he said he would support a rollback of the one percentage point increase in the state sales tax enacted under Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration.

    Sossi was the only candidate to address issues pertaining to seniors, who represent a growing proportion of Shore residents. He said “affordable housing” has become a serious problem in the district because seniors can’t afford to keep up their homes. He said he favors a change in state income tax law to allow a tax credit to offset income from pensions,  such as some other states provide.


Teaser: Campaign Finance Reports Tell Some Tales

August 18, 2010

  We know our readers look forward to Cecil Times reports and analysis of local candidates’ campaign finance reports and we are hard at work on searching and reviewing the latest pre-primary reports that were due to be filed with the state Board of Elections this week. The state Board and the computer databases have been swamped and the reports of some important candidates who have filed are not yet available online. We will be doing detailed reports in all key races in the county and District 36 state contests in the course of the next few days.

  But we thought we’d tantalize you with a few nuggets, to be mined more fully later.

Sheriff’s Race:

— Incumbent Republican Barry Janney is, as usual, well-financed but his campaign pockets are nowhere near as full as in past campaigns when he had far less competition. He has raised nearly $21,000 so far this year, adding on to a carry-over balance from 2009 of  $26,877. After expenses, he has $19,337 left in cash on hand to carry him through his contested Republican primary.

–GOP challenger Dan Slater gets the gold star for most improved fundraising, expanding his reach to southern Cecil County with a Crystal Beach barbecue and other events. His latest report shows he raised $7,805 since January. He began the year with a cash balance of $1,151 but after expenses, he is just about tapped out. He has just $69.01 cash in the bank.

–Democratic candidate Robert “Skip” DeWitt has made a strong showing after entering the primary late in the game, after rival Chris Sutton had been fundraising for over a year.  DeWitt has raised $7,275, and after expenses still has $2,230 cash on hand.

  Sutton’s report has been filed but was not yet available online.

In other races:

–County Commissioner Brian Lockhart (D-3) is a major bankroller of Democratic Commissioner Wayne Tome’s campaign for re-election in Dist. 4.

–Wonder of wonders, Del. Michael Smigiel (R-36) has actually filed his latest finance report on time! He has been levied late fee fines repeatedly in the past by the State Elections Board, in one case for filing well over a year late. This year,  Smigiel has had to rely heavily on personal loans to his campaign as well as some political action committees and out-of-district donors.

We’ll be back with much more, soon. But first we have some unfinished business, following up on the League of Women Voters candidate forum from Tuesday night.


BULLETIN: 36th Dist. Candidates’ Forum–a Surprise Amidst the Yawns

August 17, 2010

CENTREVILLE– Candidates for the three state Delegate seats and lone state Senate seat at stake in this year’s elections fielded questions from the audience here  Tuesday night at a League of Women Voters forum, with the surprise of the evening the strong performance by Steven Mumford, a first-time candidate from Chestertown seeking the Democratic nomination for Senate.

   Mumford, with an eclectic background that includes work as a professional dancer and membership in the Screen Actors Guild, was knowledgable about local Kent and Queen Anne’s County issues, including the “FASTC” project that would have brought a federal State Department security training center to a large Queen Anne’s County farm. The project was initially welcomed by local officials but they backpedaled after pressure brought by local anti-growth groups and the federal government withdrew the proposal.

   Mumford said that while the 400 or so jobs the facility would have brought to Queen Anne’s were “lost” to that county, the project might still be salvaged and located in Kent or Caroline counties in the 36th District. He said he had talked with local economic development officials who were working with some local farmers interested in offering their property for the facility. “It’s not a dead issue yet,” he said.

   His opponent in the Democratic primary, Robert Alt, the former mayor of Elkton, admitted he was clueless about FASTC: ” I don’t know much about this issue but I’ll try to learn more,” he said.

   Mumford also addressed problems with the Kent County recycling program and Bay Bridge-related traffic problems on Kent Island.

   The forum,  sponsored by the Kent and Queen Anne’s chapters of the League, had Democratic candidates appearing on one panel and Republicans on a separate panel. In addition to Mumford and Alt, Democrat William Manlove, of Cecil County, a candidate for Delegate in Dist. 36, also participated. The lone no-showDemocratic candidate was Arthur Hock, candidate for the Kent County Delegate seat in the district.

   Republicans attending were incumbent Sen. E.J. Pipkin; Del. Richard Sossi, incumbent Delegate from Queen Anne’s County and his GOP primary opponent, Stephen  S. Hershey; Jay Jacobs of Rock Hall, running for the Kent County Delegate seat; and incumbent Del. Michael Smigiel of Cecil County. Donald Alcorn, who is opposing Pipkin in the GOP primary, did not appear.

(The Cecil Times will file a complete report on the event later.)


Candidates’ Forum: Civility and Cliff’s Notes for Cecil County Issues

August 5, 2010

  The first local candidates’ forum this week highlighted several hot-button Cecil County issues, and personalities, but the 100 or so people who attended the “Cecil County Patriots” forum for Republican county commissioner candidates heard some thoughtful observations,  politely expressed, as well as the (we admit it) headline-grabbing political outburst by one candidate.

   As The Cecil Times reported here within two hours of the forum’s conclusion Monday night, ( https://ceciltimes.wordpress.com/2010/08/02/kolodzey-blasts-pipkin-smigiel-they-will-destroy-this-county/ ) political newcomer Ted Kolodzey lashed out at the powerful GOP State Sen. E.J. Pipkin and Del.  Michael Smigiel, both R-36th District.  Three  political allies of the duo,  commissioner candidates from the Cecil Young Republicans Club, boycotted the forum sponsored by the local affiliate of the “tea party” movement.

   But apart from the brief moments of drama from one candidate, attendees were given a polite, almost academic discussion of a handful of issues, with each candidate given ample opportunity and time to respond to other candidates and to make a closing statement at the end of the evening. The forum was moderated by a member of Toastmasters’ International, who simply read questions and monitored times for responses but did not interject into the candidates’ statements.

   Some absentees from the forum have been attacking the event as some sort of a lynch mob, but for anyone present at the VFW hall in North East, nothing could be farther from the reality of the event.  Regardless of one’s agreement or disagreement with the “tea party” movement or the local group, the forum could not be characterized as anything but fair to all the candidates and raising issues of general interest in the county. There was no shouting, no catcalls and only some polite applause as each panel of candidates concluded their presentations.

   That said, some of the candidates had in depth knowledge, some had one-note responses on a variety of local issues and others had just a glancing familiarity with some basic points. So here is our report on the highlights of the issues and the candidates’ comments, with a few Cliff’s Notes for background.

    1. Artesian Water takeover of county water/sewer facilities: (County Commissioners sold county-owned water and sewage treatment plants to the private Artesian operation in what was touted as a way to get private funding for expansion of infrastructure in the I-95-Rt. 40 growth corridor. The sale is currently under court challenge.)

     Tari Moore, candidate for the GOP nomination in District 2, said that “aging” systems were a cost to the county and it was better to have them “sold” to “professionals” who could operate them properly. “I think it was a wise decision,” she said. Diana Broomell, a candidate for the Republican nomination in District 4, agreed with Moore’s assertion that “aging” systems were a burden on the county and better off sold to private interests.  Kolodzey, seeking the GOP nomination in District 3, said he favored privatization of many government services: “I support anytime anything goes private.”

    But former Commissioner Harry Hepbron, seeking his old District 3 seat, questioned the decision made after he left the board to sell the water and sewer facilities to private interests. He cited upgrades to county facilities during his tenure on the board and challenged the assertion that the county was unloading “aging” and deficient facilities. Since Artesian is a private profit-making company, citizens will clearly face higher user fees to allow the company to make profits, he said. Furthermore, by giving up water and sewer lines, the county has no power over where new lines go and loses its ability to direct infrastructure to the growth corridor. He said a better option might have been keeping county control over lines but outsourcing operation of water/sewer plants.

2. Revenue Growth, Spending Cuts– Moore said it was “absolutely critical” to promote economic development but also key to reduce “wasteful spending” by county government. Kolodzey said there should be significant spending cuts in county government and “they have to be forced.” Broomell cited her work organizing several “tea party” events last year as proof of her commitment to cutting spending by government and said the county budget should “start at zero” each year.

    Hepbron advocated a balanced approach, calling for expansion of the revenue base through incentives to business to locate in the county and create jobs for local residents as well as “in house” efficiencies and cost-savings. He cited his role as a commissioner in promoting “green power” to recapture gases from the county landfill that could be used as energy sources for the county to cut costs as well as selling energy to business as a new revenue source.

3. Economic Development/Jobs– (The current county budget cut spending for economic growth initiatives. Recent reports show most of the BRAC economic development, due to expansion of operations at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, is going to  job creation in Harford County.)

   Kolodzey said it was a “chicken and the egg” proposition and that cutting county taxes was top priority: “You need to do that (cut taxes) first and jobs will come second.” Hepbron said that “new jobs mean new revenues” for the county so that there is less reliance on property taxes to fund the county budget. He cited his experience  as a Commissioner to lure large businesses to the county with incentives, due to competition from nearby states, and that such incentives pay off in the long run through increased revenues and job creation.

    Broomell said that local employers and Cecil College should work together to promote job skills needed by business. She also said she was concerned that “we allow franchises to come in and undercut local business…the Super Wal-Mart’s are very detrimental to our local businesses.” Moore said that the county’s economic development office had brought in more new jobs than were lost due to the recession. She said the county needs to more aggressively seek BRAC-related jobs and economic development.

4. Charter Government– (Voters will decide on the November ballot whether to approve a change from commissioners to charter government, with a highly compensated, elected county executive in charge of most day to day decisions with a lower-paid, no benefits panel of county council members acting as reviewers of county executive actions.)

  Most of the candidates opposed charter government, with some saying it would cost taxpayers more money. Broomell said she favored “code home rule,” which would keep the current 5-member commissioners’ panel without a county executive, because code home rule provides more independence from Annapolis than either the current 5-member Commissioners form of government or the proposed charter government. (But code home rule is not on the ballot for voters to consider, only a yes or no vote on whether to adopt a charter form of government.)

  Kolodzey also opposed charter, saying he favored the commissioner form of government. “It will cost more and not be more efficient,” he said of charter government. Moore said that it was “more important who we elect” than the form of government. She said there needed to be more long-range planning for the future of the county.

  Hepbron cited his experience under the old three-member commissioners board, where there could be compromises reached after back-and-forth discussions, versus the newer five-member, staggered terms board. He said the current system led to stalemate, with two or three members always running for re-election and unwilling to make tough decisions.  In contrast to this system, he said he would favor charter government. But he also indicated he would be comfortable with an enhanced-powers five-member board, such as would be provided under code home rule form of government.

   The Cecil County Patriots will host another candidates forum later this month for Democratic candidates for County Commissioner.