It was a bit of an unusual venue to have a candidate forum, but the two remaining District 2 City Council candidates were slated to speak in front of about a dozen residents at Harbor Pointe, a local assisted living facility. Unfortunately, incumbent Debbie Campbell was unable to attend due to a scheduling conflict; standing in for her was a friend and fellow Camden neighborhood resident, Susan Tilghman.
With that situation, challenger Muir Boda basically had a walkover. But Tilghman did speak briefly on Campbell’s behalf, apologizing to the residents for Debbie’s absence and briefly going over some of issues Debbie wanted to stress.
Tilghman’s expertise on Debbie Campbell came from a history of working with her on neighborhood and city issues, with Susan particularly impressed by Debbie’s expertise in the housing field. She related that Debbie was the president of the Camden Neighborhood Council and that she was “amazed” at Debbie’s efforts to resolving problems by “asking tough questions.”
Susan also added that Debbie was “concerned with (the city’s) financial issues”, including “developer subsidies.” Campbell had also worked hard on the audit, and the city had shown “real progress” on the issue.
But primary among issues for Campbell, Tilghman continued, was crime. Having one of the highest per capita crime rates in the country, Salisbury is looking for help from outside sources, including having a crime task force working with Dover, Delaware – a city of similar size to Salisbury.
Susan concluded that Debbie Campbell would be a “hard worker…tireless” and “dedicated to Salisbury.”
Muir Boda then took to the podium and began by introducing himself with a short biography. Muir works at a local Wal-Mart and volunteers at his church’s youth ministry in his spare time. In truth, Boda stated, he “(didn’t) disagree with Debbie Campbell on many issues.”
But Muir did have some pet accomplishments he wanted to work for should he be elected. One of them was the safety issue of crossing U.S. 13, particularly in the area near the Centre of Salisbury and the retail strip extending north toward Delaware. A good friend of his was recently killed in a car-pedestrian accident, so the issue hit him close to home. He wanted to explore working with the state of Maryland on those improvements.
Another obvious issue was the crime problem. Muir stated that the current system needed to become more efficient, in particular opining that the city of Salisbury and Wicomico County Sheriff’s Department would be better served if their dispatch and their investigative units were both merged together into single entities. A combined dispatch would assure that forces would operate on the same radio frequency (as the county’s fire departments already do), and putting together investigative units would eliminate any sort of rivalry between departments since in many instances criminals commit their crimes locally in multiple jurisdictions. While this wasn’t something anticipated for a few years, Muir thought now was a good time to “start the discussion.”
The Libertarian Boda asserted that “government was not always the answer”, especially when it came to youth activities. Muir cited a number of private organizations, some religious-based like his church, that sponsored alternative sorts of youth activities. In those cases, he continued, the government “should not hinder them (but) let them do their work.”
In bringing up the area of fiscal responsibility, Boda again used as the Salisbury Police Department as an example, telling those gathered that out of 88 sworn officers, he estimated that about 30 were deskbound. Perhaps it was time to “put them on the street” during peak crime hours. This would save the city money as opposed to hiring new police officers, since the challenger pointed out that a rookie officer would cost the city $100,000 with salary, benefits, and training the first year and $50-60,000 per year after that. Already the police department accounts for $10 million of a $30 million budget and putting existing officers off desk duty would be “more efficient and effective”, concluded Boda.
Two other issues Muir touched on were environmental accountability, saying that “historically the government is the worst polluter” and advocating seeking grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to help defray costs for improvements; and addressing with Wicomico County their formula for distributing funds for the local fire companies. Boda told the audience that each fire department received an equal allocation of funding, regardless of the number of calls they handled.
Muir opened up the floor for questions at this point.
The first question came from a woman who asked about a curfew for children. In response, Boda rhetorically asked “how much can government go in and raise the kids?” Unfortunately, parents were exhibiting “not enough accountability for their actions.” He also tied the response into the overall crime issue, noting “if we don’t have the intestinal will to fight crime now, what will it be like in five years?”
After a side comment about the state of abandoned housing in Salisbury, Boda also believed that the demolition process should be sped up.
A second questioner pointed out that Salisbury has a “young” police force, and that inexperience was hurting the efforts to convict perpetrators. So what could be changed?
Boda saw this as a three-prong effort; first the need for additional mentoring and training of officers who weren’t doing a good job of investigating cases, secondly repeating the call to move officers from desk duty to patrol duty, and lastly implementing the idea to improve communications with the Sheriff’s Department. The questioner stated that “(Salisbury Police) Chief Webster doesn’t want to communicate with the Sheriff’s Department.” (This actually contradicted somewhat a statement made during Monday’s Wicomico County Republican Club meeting by Sheriff Mike Lewis, at least regarding the homicide of Anitra Pirkle.)
Finally, in response to a lengthy series of questions about police department hierarchy which morphed into asking about park facilities, Muir asserted that it shouldn’t necessarily be up to the government to fund things, but was asked if pushing off responsibility was part of the problem. We really didn’t get an answer to this, as time ran out on the forum for the day.
Unlike many other forums I’ve attended, this was very much an informal gathering and actually intended solely for the residents of Harbor Pointe who may not be able to travel to other venues to see and hear the two candidates. I was invited to this event by Muir Boda and decided to cover this as a public service to local voters (since I don’t live in the district.)
Because there are only two remaining candidates, the primary won’t be necessary in this race; however, all city voters should still take advantage of the primary because the Mayoral race requires a primary as four candidates will be shaved down to two – the same goes for the District 1 race, which is over a much smaller area of the city. Hopefully this will be the first of several forums I’ll be able to cover as Election 2009 draws closer.