A monoblogue year in review

Having a holiday schedule based on Wednesday holidays seems to play havoc with the news cycle, as there’s not much going on with Maryland politics right now. By the time the holiday hangover is done, it’s the weekend.

So over the next four days I’m going to provide for you a look back and look forward. As part of that, tonight’s post will be the look back, with some of the highlights of my political coverage – and a couple other items tossed in for fun as well. This is the first time I’ve tried this, so I’ll see how it goes.

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The year began, as it always does, in January. As will be the case even moreso this year, political fundraising was in the news as there was a surprise leader in the gubernatorial money race on the GOP side. Another highlight of the month was a spirited and enlightening discussion of state issues at the Wicomico Society of Patriots meeting – something all too infrequent this year, unfortunately.

But the highlight of the month was my two-part coverage of the Turning the Tides conference in Annapolis. which had a plethora of good speakers and discussion. It was so good I had to post separately on the morning and afternoon events.

In February my attention was turned to several topics, particularly providing coverage of the financing and the events surrounding the Salisbury municipal elections, for which the primary was February 26th. A key issue brought up was a state mandate for the city to help pay for cleanup of Chesapeake Bay, to the tune of $19 million a year.

Another state mandate took center stage in February, as the Wicomico County Council held a Tier Map forum to find out citizens weren’t exactly enamored with the idea. As part of that I read from my written testimony on a Tier Map repeal bill, which wasn’t the only testimony I wrote – I also put in my two cents on the gun grab bill.

We also found out that month that the Maryland GOP would get new leadership following the resignation of Chair Alex Mooney.

March found me continuing my coverage of the Salisbury city elections, but only backing one candidate. More important were local developments on the state level, where the Second Amendment was a hot topic for a local townhall meeting and our county’s Lincoln Day Dinner.

But the highlight for me, by far, was my day at CPAC. That turned out to be a two-part set of posts.

As the area began to wake up from a winter slumber in April, so did the political world as it turned from the General Assembly session to the 2014 campaign. The Salisbury city elections went as expected, so I turned my attention to the race for state party chair. Interim Chair Diana Waterman ran a campaign which was at times embroiled in some controversy, but prevailed on enough supporters to make it through the lengthy grind of campaign forums (including one in Cambridge on the eve of the state convention) and win the remainder of Alex Mooney’s unexpired term. But even the convention itself had its share of ups and downs, particularly a chaotic ending and a rebuff to new media.

While that was happening, the 2014 election was beginning to take shape, with familiar names both trying their luck again and trying for a promotion. Others had interesting endorsements as feathers in the cap.

But it wasn’t all political in April. The outdoor season began with two local mainstays: Pork in the Park and the Salisbury Festival. I also found out I was immortalized on video thanks to Peter Ingemi, better known as DaTechGuy.

Those things political slowed down in May, with just a little reactionary cleanup to the state convention to begin the month, along with other reaction to the recently-completed General Assembly session. In its wake we also had turnover in Maryland House of Delegates GOP leadership.

But one prospective candidate for governor announced other intentions, leaving another to confirm what we knew all along.

On the fun side, I enjoyed Salisbury’s Third Friday celebration with some friends and stopped by to see them at another barbecue festival, too.

June began with a visit from gubernatorial candidate David Craig, who stopped by Salisbury and in the process gave me an interview. And while he didn’t make a formal tour, fellow Republican Ron George made sure to fill me in on his announcement and establish tax cutting bonafides. We also picked up a Republican candidate for an important local seat and found out political correctness pays in the Maryland business world.

A local doctor gave us his perspective on Obamacare and our area celebrated the chicken in June, too. I also learned of a special honor only a handful of political websites received.

As is often the case, our wallets became a little lighter in July. In the aftermath, we found out who David Craig picked as a running mate and welcomed both of them to our Wicomico County Republican Club meeting. I also talked about another who was amassing a support base but hadn’t made definite 2014 plans at the time.

On the other side of the coin, we found the Democratic field was pressing farther away from the center, a place the GOP was trying to court with the carrot of primary voting. Meanwhile, the political event of the summer occurred in Crisfield, and I was there.

There were some interesting developments in the new media world as well – a plea for help, a shakeup in local internet radio, and my annual monoblogue Accountability Project all came down in July.

The big news in August was the resignation of State Senator E.J. Pipkin, and the battle to succeed him. And while one gubernatorial candidate dropped out, another made his intentions formal and stopped by our Wicomico County Republican Club meeting as well. Even Ron George stopped by our fair county, although I missed him.

It seemed like the gubernatorial campaign got into full swing in September – Charles Lollar announced in an unusual location, the Brown/Ulman Democratic team came here looking for money, Ron George tangled with Texas governor Rick Perry and showed up to make it three Wicomico County Republican Club meetings in a row with a gubernatorial candidate, and Doug Gansler decided to drop by, too. On the other side, Michael Steele took a pass. I also talked about what Larry Hogan might do to fill out the puzzle.

Those up the Shore made news, too. Steve Hershey was the survivor who was appointed State Senator, and I attended the First District Bull Roast for the first time. I’ve been to many Wicomico County Republican Club Crab Feasts, but this year’s was very successful indeed.

September also brought the close of our local baseball season. As is tradition I reviewed the season, both to select a Shorebird of the Year and hopefully improve the fan experience.

October was a month I began considering my choice in the gubernatorial race. That became more difficult as Larry Hogan took an unusual trip for a businessman and Charles Lollar’s campaign worked on self-immolation, while Doug Gansler needed his own damage control.

I also had the thought of going back to the future in Maryland, but a heavy dose of my political involvement came with the tradtional closing events to our tourist season, the Good Beer Festival and Autumn Wine Festival.

Most of November was spent anticipating the Maryland GOP Fall Convention; in fact, many were sure of an impending announcement. Honestly, both may have fallen into the category of “dud.” But all was not lost, as the month gave me the chance to expound on manufacturing and share some interesting polling data.

Finally we come to December. While the month is a long runup to the Christmas holiday, I got the chance to again expound on manufacturing and come up with another radical idea for change. We also got more proof that our state government is up for sale and those who are running for governor place too much stock in internet polling. My choice is still up in the air, even after compiling an 11-part dossier on the Republicans currently in the race.

Locally, we found a good candidate to unseat a long-time incumbent who has long ago outlived his political usefulness. And the incumbent will need to watch his back because Maryland Legislative Watch will be back again to keep an eye on him and his cohorts. I’ll be volunteering for a second year,

And while I weighed in on the latest national diversion from the dreary record of our President and his party, I maintained two December traditions, remarking on eight years of monoblogue and days later inducting two new players into the Shorebird of the Week Hall of Fame.

You know, it was fun going down memory lane for 2013. But tomorrow it will be time to look forward, beginning with the local level.

The new Salisbury ‘Dream Team’ – Day and Ireton

It probably wasn’t a big surprise based on the primary results and the perception that this election was a tag team match between Jake Day and Jim Ireton vs. Debbie Campbell and Joe Albero. But the preliminary results are in, and it’s all but official that the Day/Ireton side won handily: Day picked up just under 72% of the vote in routing two-term incumbent Debbie Campbell while Jim Ireton managed just 68% of the vote in defeating Joe Albero and winning a second term.

Campbell was the only one of the three incumbents to lose, as District 1 Council member Shanie Shields won a third term with just 48% of the vote – a quirk in the City Charter allowed both challengers to advance through the primary. Cynthia Polk received 3 more votes than April Jackson did this time.

So where will Salisbury go now? Later this month it appears we will find that the 3-2 majorities which always seemed to stymie Ireton’s key initiatives will now become 3-2 votes in favor, with Day joining incumbents Shields and Laura Mitchell to provide a pro-Ireton majority. And I’d love to get a hold of Debbie Campbell’s green-highlighted copy of the Day plan just to see how many of these items indeed cost city taxpayers.

But another question may be the fate of River’s Edge, which was touted by Campbell as one of her achievements. While the money from the state is probably still going to be there, will the plans have to change to accommodate the retail aspect Day wants to bring to the city? (It’s still pretty sad that taxpayers all around the state are going to be paying a subsidy for a artisan community, but that’s a subject for another time.)

Still, given the primary results none of these results were completely unexpected. Both Day and Shields actually improved their percentages from the primary – which was not surprising to me because people like to back a winner. Day gained 723 votes from the primary while Campbell picked up only 292. Over 71 percent of the new votes went to Day, reflective of the final margin and perhaps a result of the (somewhat undeserved) negative reputation Campbell acquired over the years.

Of course, it’s too early to tell what the future will hold for the losers. While April Jackson was a first-time candidate in District 1, Cynthia Polk has now lost twice. And while Debbie Campbell can look back at eight years where she went from the reformer darling against the “Dream Team” in 2005 to being portrayed as the Wicked Witch of the West on one local blog, Joe Albero literally relocated himself to an apartment inside one of the properties he owns a year ago to establish city residency after living outside Delmar, Delaware for several years. Is he through with Salisbury?

For all the talk about attracting businesses in this campaign, it should be noted that Jim Ireton is a financial supporter of the man who has all but single-handedly turned Maryland into one of the most hostile states toward business in the country, Martin O’Malley. His redistributionist policy is one of the greatest handicaps to making Salisbury into a jewel, and we can’t do anything to change that until next year.

And so another election season comes to an end in Salisbury, but the work for those of us who believe in liberty begins now. It’s time to find a conservative slate of candidates willing to stop the subsidies, cut the red tape, and truly place the “open for business” sign in Salisbury – hopefully working in conjunction with a like-minded state government in Annapolis ready and willing to roll back the excesses of the O’Malley era. This city can thrive, but it needs the right people in charge to do it.

Weighing in on the Salisbury races

Yes, I know it’s Easter Sunday, so I wish my believing readers a happy Easter – He is risen!

But on Tuesday, Salisbury voters will head to the polls to elect their mayor and two of five City Council members in the last partial election before changes in 2015 would require all Council members and the mayor be elected simultaneously. So in essence we are picking some of these Council members and mayor for a half-term to be completed in the fall of 2015.

Honestly, it probably doesn’t matter who gets elected in District 1 because they will be advocates for the city’s minority population getting theirs rather than necessarily the benefits of the city as a whole. I heard a lot of complaining from the three women who are running about what the city didn’t do for their district, and while we all want the benefit of good jobs their district in particular is the product of people who made a lot of bad life choices. We also all want a thriving minority community, but it should be in the context of a thriving community as a whole. Moreover, in 2015 that district will double in size and become home to two Council members if the plans remain the same.

But while I can dismiss the District 1 race quickly, I have a lot to say about the mayor’s race.

In 2009, Jim Ireton told us that help was on the way. Well, the city isn’t exactly thriving, and it’s spent a lot of money just to maintain its place on the treadmill. Furthermore, it appears that even more money will have to be spent thanks to government mandates to clean up Chesapeake Bay – despite the fact millions have already been spent on what was supposed to be a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment plant. Meanwhile, Jim touts a lot of “accomplishments” which any halfway decent mayor should have been able to do in his sleep. This is what Jim lists on his website as “Improving Salisbury”:

Third Friday, The city’s first Latino Festival, lowering business capacity fees, people returning to downtown, the city dog park, improvements at Bateman/Onley Road. These are just a few of the important improvements to Salisbury that have happened while Jim has been Mayor. Coalitions across Salisbury have worked with Jim and city staff to move projects forward. Jim led the way on the city’s comprehensive plan, fought for and won a 60% reduction in business capacity fees, and hasn’t raised property taxes his entire time in office.

Jim has aggressively used the city’s revolving loan fund program to help businesses like Mojo’s, and he’s ordered the demolition of five slum properties and worked to close and demolish the Thrift Travel Inn.

Well, no wonder MoJo’s donated to his campaign! I’m just surprised they didn’t max out. But when you think about it – is that a worthy resume of four years in office? Oh, and he claims violent crime dropped 41 percent and he hired the first female chief of police.

But the city still struggles with the same problems it did four years ago. Some things are different and some things are changed, but we still seem to be only treading water. The situation was ripe for a good opponent; instead, we got Joe Albero.

Joe Albero claims to be a successful (now-retired) businessman who would bring that experience to Salisbury. Yet I have to question that because I’ve never seen any of the businesses he created – it’s not like I drive by any of them in my daily rounds as I would a restaurant, a haberdashery, or a manufacturing plant. From what I have gathered, the business he owns works in the lighting field but there are no local jobs being created that I’m aware of. One would think he would point with pride to these businesses and say, see what success I have achieved? But he doesn’t even have a functional “Albero for Mayor” website.

Now I will say Joe has a website which apparently attracts a fair number of readers and is chock full of ads from local businesses who supposedly pay $100 a month for the privilege. If you want to count that as a successful business I suppose you could but consider how he got it to be a successful business – it wasn’t through good customer service or promoting a quality product. I’ve spoken to observers who liken visiting the site to seeing highlights of the 14-car NASCAR pileup – you know it’s wrong, but you can’t help but watch.

So those are Salisbury’s choices for mayor for the next 31 months. I really can’t recommend either of them; although Albero talks a good game I simply have a trust issue with him from past experience.

Yet on the City Council District 2 side, I can provide you with a clear choice.

I can’t fault Jake Day either for trying or for having some sound ideas; moreover, he’s the only candidate who knocked on my door. But I’m troubled by a number of items in his elaborate plan for Salisbury.

I don’t believe one can force the market to adapt to retail, nor can we goose a demand for downtown/urban housing without some kind of subsidy. Day seemingly envisions a Salisbury where all the new housing in certain areas is attached to retail below – of course, the question is whether there is a market for either option considering we have a number of these housing units already available. (One example is the building Albero lives in, which insofar as I recall hadn’t had its apartments leased in several years until Albero himself moved in.)

And while it would be nice to create a Salisbury Boulevard which is more attractive, I have to wonder where the money for these improvements will come from and also how it will affect traffic flow. Day advocates for an expansion of mass transit between Salisbury University and downtown, and seems to focus most of his energy on building up the central city.

He’s also an advocate of LEED design, which is great for energy efficiency but not so good for property rights or inexpensive building. As I’ve often stated, I like a payback period for investment in energy savings of five years or less and, although I haven’t kept up with the LEED field over the last few years, it was heading in a direction even more disdainful of property rights and toward central planning. The words “transit-oriented development” may not mean much to you, but to me it means attempting to do away with the automobile and the freedom it provides.

Over the last few weeks, it’s become apparent that Day was Jim Ireton’s handpicked minion for City Council, and I didn’t support Jim Ireton the first time he ran.

Me, I would rather have a fiscal watchdog on City Council:

Yes, it’s a video which isn’t all that slickly produced and, to be quite honest, I’m not sure how River’s Edge isn’t going to be the same black hole that’s already sitting on the site, just a little farther along. Color me skeptical.

But when the word “no” is justified, I want someone who knows how to say it. Consider Debbie Campbell as a check and balance to the far-left intentions of Jim Ireton. I’ll be quite honest: I didn’t vote for her the last time she ran because I thought Muir Boda would do an even better job, and it’s too bad he didn’t run this time. I was hoping Jack Heath would finish in the top two (and I voted for him, despite his somewhat lackluster campaign) so I’d have a better, more conservative choice than I have with Day in the field; alas, it was not to be.

Will the infighting on City Council continue with Campbell remaining in place? Sadly, the answer is probably “yes.” But I’d rather have a little friction and the assurance someone is watching out for my interests than smooth sailing toward oblivion. I honestly suspect all of the realtors and contractors who have donated to Day will be lined up looking for their palms to be greased later this month if Day is sworn in.

Unfortunately, that joining at the hip of Day and Ireton has also led to the thought that Campbell and Albero are, too. But I haven’t seen Campbell and Albero out campaigning together, and while they may share some of the same goals I’m not taking the package deal. I’m hoping those of us on the local Republican Central Committee can work on getting a better, full slate of candidates before voters in 2015, since it would be a four-year term (and perhaps five separate districts, a Day idea I could endorse.)

But overall the choice for District 2 is clear: let’s get some honest-to-goodness business going in Salisbury, not pay-for-play. Vote for Debbie Campbell on Tuesday.

Final Salisbury city election forum only mildly contentious

Normally I try to do a blow-by-blow of these events by question but instead this time I want to do it by candidate. Many of the questions concerned an issue I also think is paramount, and that’s economic development. Small wonder when the local Chamber of Commerce is the co-sponsor.

And as an executive editorial decision, summarizing by candidate also gives me the opportunity to comment on their final release of financial statements prior to the election.

I want to begin with District 1, a fight in which I have no dog in because I live in the city’s other district. Through a quirk in the City Charter, we found out the primary election did nothing but act as a poll as to relative position in the race. We found both April Jackson or Cynthia Polk would need to find perhaps 80 to 85 votes to get to victory while Shanie Shields only needs around 60 (based on 2009 results, where just over 250 total votes were cast.) But District 1′s pathetic turnout means it’s quite possible the first to 100 votes wins.

I’ll begin with April Jackson, who attended this forum after missing the PACE event in February and almost missing the cutoff in the primary. Her 53rd and tying vote was practically the last one counted in the final canvass.

Her business vision was one of creating a five-year plan to bring in business and tourism, stating “I have no doubt in my mind” the city could succeed. Among the successes she would like to work on if elected is the North Prong/Lake Street neighborhood, something which is currently “a complete eyesore” but could be revitalized.

April also felt that the way to a better business environment was to find out what the city wants or needs. But something the city didn’t need was the enhanced disclosure form argued about by City Council, a document Jackson called “totally unnecessary” and “not feasible.” Moreover, she believed we do need a full-time city attorney.

She also contended, on the question of consolidating city and county services, that we should all work together – I gathered she was more open to the idea than most. In the end, Jackson advocated for a clear vision, smart planning, and open dialogue and vowed to serve with “dignity, direction, and determination.”

Through two reports Jackson has raised just $945, with most of it apparently coming from supportive family and friends. Her chief expenditures have been signage and a radio ad running on local gospel station WDIH-FM.

Fellow challenger Cynthia Polk pledged to bring “the power to listen” to City Council, advocating herself for “active listening.” Yet while she spoke about “the power of no,” Cynthia noted that “every no don’t mean no,” quoting her grandmother. And even on the question of a full-time city attorney, she was noncommittal: “I would have to go and listen.”

She was more decisive about and critical of the much-discussed disclosure form, though, calling it a “borderline invasion of privacy.” Polk was “leery” of exceeding the state requirements for disclosure on a city form. She was also concerned about the consolidation of services with the county, citing the level of service and the budget as factors.

However, Cynthia was willing to create jobs – her “top priority” – through collaboration with local universities and expanding the enterprise zones to include more of District 1. She also pondered how we could attract more Ocean City-bound traffic and tourism – but she seemed a little bit hesitant to embrace mayoral candidate Joe Albero’s claim he would double as the city’s economic development director, jumping in on a mayoral question to note economic development “is a specialty.”

Polk did believe the River’s Edge project, which is near her home, would “give the whole area a lift.” The city needs innovation, and an opportunity to restore that area to the prominence it once had instead of the question “why do you live over there?” Cynthia noted in her closing her shortcomings as a public speaker, but that answer proved she could speak clearly and passionately when needed. “I’m the candidate for the rest of us,” she concluded.

After not filing a full financial report in the primary because she didn’t meet the $600 threshold, Polk revealed she had raised $550 – exactly half of that self-funded – and spent most of her funds on signage. She’d also leaned heavily on three volunteers for distributing the flyers, claiming 34 hours of in-kind services from them at $8 per hour. (One of those volunteers and contributors was former City Council member and 2010 Delegate candidate Von Siggers.)

Incumbent Shanie Shields could obviously lean on her eight years on City Council, but opened up by saying she was “ready to move Salisbury forward.” But two things she wanted in her next term were “a better political climate” and “civility” – for her, the last two years have been “stressful.”

Indeed, she was very critical of the current rendition of City Council. Citing the disclosure form as an example, she revealed it was just 23 taxpayers who wanted the ordinance, with two bothering to testify. It’s “another example of not including stakeholders,” according to Shields. “We need to bring stakeholders to the table,” she would later stress in response to another query.

A second bone of contention with the city’s legislative body was the city attorney. Shields jumped on a statement by District 2 challenger Jake Day about the city attorney, charging that the city hadn’t seen a legal bill since October. “If the previous city attorney had done that we would have his head,” Shanie charged.

On the mayoral question of a full-time economic development director, Shields added her remark that she couldn’t support the hiring of one before other current city workers received raises. Her budgetary concerns extended to the idea of consolidating services with the county, a concept she believed could be handled through mutual aid pacts. Like Jackson, Shields advocated for the idea of developing the North Prong, adding in the concept of extending the existing Riverwalk to that area. She also believed the area of Germania Circle should be converted over to a park, citing how flood-prone it has been.

Not surprisingly, the incumbent has raised the most money in the race, a total which has now reached $3,170. Much of that has come from the building and rental industry – local architect Keith Fisher, realtor Michael Weisner, GNI Properties, and Investment Properties are among contributors which donated at or near the maximum $250 limit. And while she’s spent her money on the regular campaign fare of signs, radio spots, and a handful of shirts, Shanie should also be commended for spending a little bit on feeding her volunteers.

Yet while the District 1 contenders chose to try and sell themselves, the two District 2 candidates who survived the primary were running against something: Jake Day against a Council which he claims needs more collaboration and openness and Debbie Campbell against an opponent versus whom she’s several hundred votes in arrears.

Jake Day, as the leading primary vote-getter, could afford to lay back and call out the need for a business environment that’s “all about collaboration, all about openness.” That included reducing barriers to investment, creating an EDU-free zone, and “making an investment in” an economic development office and business incubator. On the other hand, when the subject of Urban Salisbury came up before the mayoral debate, Day added his belief that Urban Salisbury wasn’t structured right nor was it focused on the right things.

His vision for downtown was one with mixed-use development, something which could be worthy of being called “the capital of the Eastern Shore.” It takes a changed culture, though.

Jake was critical of the disclosure form, decrying the $1200 of city staff time in arguing over the points of an “absurd ordinance,” but one which is a “good idea, executed poorly.” Day also pointed out these and other ideas, like a proposed “lockout law”, came before Council thanks to its president, which served as a subtle dig at Council as composed. That extended to the expenditure of $110,000 Jake claimed had been spent on a city attorney. The 2,500 voters who signed a petition to revisit the city attorney question were right, added Jake. And when questioned about the 2,500 signatures by opponent Debbie Campbell, who pointed out they weren’t certified, Day said “I knocked on doors using that list.” He added that “the county is in a great place” with its internal counsel.

But on other questions, Jake was more receptive. “We have to keep our mind open” to the possibility of combining city and county services if it’s efficient.

In his closing statement, Day pointed out this would be the last gathering of the candidates. “This has been an incredible experience,” he said, adding his admiration for former Council aspirant Jack Heath. When we set our sights on goals, we have the people to accomplish them, Day concluded.

Financially, Day eclipsed the five-figure mark in his latest statement, raising $10,535 thus far and leading all candidates. Included in that was $250 in PAC money from the Realtors PAC in Annapolis. Day has also spent the most on radio ads and fundraisers of any Council candidate, by far.

On the other hand, and by virtue of her distant second-place primary finish, Debbie Campbell had to be more aggressive in her approach to the forum.

She repeated her belief that businesses trying to engage the city should be treated like they’re checking into a five-star hotel, and reminded voters that there had been no tax increase “yet.”

On the subject of the disclosure form, though, Debbie saw it as a way of addressing the “veil” of LLCs over public money. It “creates transparency,” she argued. This contentiousness extended to the mayoral discussion of a proposal to adopt a more stringent “lockout law.” Campbell contended it could be enforced for an unregistered firearm, and the idea was from the mayor’s office.

Debbie also chimed in on a question which turned to the subject of Urban Salisbury, making the contention that they funded the organization “for years” but never saw the desired results. “Sometimes ‘no’ isn’t the popular answer, but it is the right answer,” said Campbell.

She also spoke at some length about the consolidation of services, reminding the audience of about 75 that “the political will did not exist” to keep the human resources and IT departments together between city and county. She also noted that consolidating public safety was “deemed not sensible” but “perhaps” the public works departments could be combined.

Debbie’s vision for the city was one of increasing our tax base, stating that “we don’t need more subsidized housing.” While we have “righted the ship,” said Campbell, we still need good jobs. She was also proud of the River’s Edge project.

Toward the end of the forum, though, Campbell became more critical of her opponent. Holding up a highlighted copy of Jake Day’s 44-page plan for the city, Debbie charged “everything in green (highlighter) costs money…you have to have somebody to say you can’t afford it.” Interestingly enough, that plan is no longer available online. (Apparently there was an issue with access from certain browsers. Jake let me know it was working, and I verified this afternoon.) But I have the (non-highlighted) draft copy.

Download (PDF, 581KB)

She also believed the question of a fulltime city attorney needed to be studied on a cost/benefit basis, where she alleged the 2,500 signatures were not certified. (They weren’t because the threshold for petitioning to an election in the city requires more than 2,500 signatures.)

Debbie’s key point was her status as a fiscal watchdog – “I’ve watched your money,” said Campbell – but she was also critical of the PAC money Day has received. Holding up copies of a mailing paid for by the National Association of Realtors Fund, she cried “is our city for sale?”

Whether it’s for sale or not, Campbell still faces an uphill financial slog in her race. She’s raised $3,466 so far and her fundraiser with Jimmy Merchant was a mild success, although he and the venue cost the campaign $600, while another fundraiser cost $500. She’s also spent money on signs, but no media.

And then we come to the mayor’s race.

Did Joe Albero change his mind? Some believed so regarding the Salisbury Zoo, but a careful reading of this post some observers pointed out showed he only wanted it out of city control. One could consider it privatization. “I don’t recall making that statement” about shutting down the zoo – “no way” would he do so.

But Albero would be happy to comply with the disclosure law. “I have no problem exposing information that’s being required,” said Joe, instead chiding the “overbearing” lockout law.

Joe’s prime platform plank, though, is economic development. “I will become the next economic development director of Salisbury,” said Joe, who added that a $51 million business wouldn’t be run part-time, so neither should the city. We have to market Salisbury on the western Shore, Joe contended, pointing out the difference in costs between the two areas.

Yet, under Ireton, nothing has been done in four years, Albero charged, later extending the idle time to 16 years. “How’s that working out for you?” he asked. If elected, said Joe, there will be no more fingerpointing. He also pledged two key things: “I will not raise taxes” and “we will revitalize downtown Salisbury.” But downtown as a district now was “long on arts and short on entertainment.” We need to think big and make it a destination location, added Joe.

The loss of business “needs to change,” said Albero.

What may also need to change before the election is Albero’s financial status. Two of the five entities which donated to Albero in the second phase of reporting were local businesses, while two others were based out of Delaware. Joe has raised just $600 in the most recent period, bringing his overall total to $7,150 – with $5,000 being his own seed money. Two other oddities about his latest statement: no recorded expenditures and the series of sheets notes him as a “Candidate for City Council.” (The first report was properly shown as “Candidate for Mayor.”)

Jim Ireton has the advantage of incumbency, but it also yielded him tough questions. For example, the idea of false alarm fines, which was so unpopular that Ireton promised to send it back to Council for a work session. He added “I don’t have a vote” on it. The same was true about the “overwhelming” disclosure law being discussed.

In terms of economic development, Ireton bemoaned plans that have just sat there for thirty years, and stated you need “some money spent to make money.” Moreover, City Council “cut Urban Salisbury to the bone” despite the contention by Jim that they brought in $6-7 for every dollar spent. “What happened to Urban Salisbury is a tragedy,” said Jim.

“No one has fought harder for the city,” Ireton said when asked about his plan. He also jumped on Albero for his lack of political experience, saying “you have to know what an RFP is (and) you have to move forward in reality.”

When asked about new projects, Jim stated “I already think Salisbury is a wonderful place.” We needed to use its assets to create prosperity. He wrapped up his presentation by stating some of his accomplishments: moving the barges off the North Prong, a 40% drop in crime, and being selected as an All-American City among them. Indeed, Jim claimed “I have tried to say yes” but “my two opponents” have done otherwise – Ireton was lumping Albero with Campbell; however, he did not mention his own endorsement of Campbell opponent Jake Day.

While Albero and Ireton were roughly even after the first report, Ireton has also eclipsed the five-figure line in donations, gathering $10,148.65 in contributions. One noticeable aspect of Ireton’s contributors, though: over half hail from outside the immediate area, including State Senator Richard Madaleno, another openly gay politician.

Also, while Ireton has spent the usual money on radio ads, print media, and coffee – plenty of java from Main Roots Coffee here in town – it’s also notable that he and Jake Day shared the cost of an election night event at River’s Edge. While it’s not the worst-kept secret that Jim Ireton would like Debbie Campbell ejected from City Council, one has to wonder how the city will be run if Campbell is flipped aside for Day and the 3-2 logjam swings away from current beneficiaries Campbell, Council President Terry Cohen, and Tim Spies.

Next month, we may just find out. Moderator Ernie Colburn noted at the end that “there are no losers here.” If the wrong choices are made, I think he will be wrong and Salisbury will drift further along toward obscurity.

A Hall of Fame fundraiser

Being in the political world, I know a normal political fundraiser provides the opportunity to meet, for a price, at least one candidate for office (like this example from 2010 or this one from last year.) Sometimes the candidate in question will have another more prominent speaker to draw more interest.

Bur it’s not that often that political fundraisers use music as a draw. Certainly I’ve attended my share of benefit concerts over the years but they are normally put together for a cause like the misfortune of someone close to the sponsor’s heart, our veterans, or fighting against breast cancer. While it could be argued the beneficiary of an upcoming fundraiser has her own misfortune of needing to make up a deficit of over 500 votes in a city election, she’s obviously going to pull out all the stops to win.

I’ll talk about the musician first; this comes from the release put out by the campaign:

Jimmy Merchant of the ‘50s doo-wop group Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers will headline a fundraiser for Debbie Campbell for City Council. For a suggested contribution of $20, community members can enjoy a live performance by a music legend, best known for the hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”

The release goes on to reveal the date, time, and location: Friday, March 15 at 6 p.m. at Chesapeake East, 501 West Main Street in Salisbury. (This is an art gallery and cafe owned by local artist Dana Simson.) Debbie attempts to tie this into Third Friday fairly well, although the location is a little bit remote from the main Third Friday festivities being held this month in the Powell Building.

And indeed, thanks to his participation in the group, Merchant is in the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame. But in writing this piece I found he doesn’t play all that often anymore, living in semi-retirement down on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. (I say semi-retirement as the website hasn’t been updated in over five years.)

With just 2 1/2 weeks remaining in the campaign as of Friday, I would presume anything made on this fundraiser will be plowed right back into a media blitz; a desperate effort for Debbie to keep her job against a candidate who’s not made any major errors so far and has no record to pick apart, let alone a reputation as the queen of “no.”  Campbell’s fundraiser appeal ticks off a number of accomplishments: improving safety at the Onley-Bateman intersection near Salisbury University, contributing to the development of the Safe Streets Initiative, backing salary increases for local police officers, and improvements to the River’s Edge project.

But Debbie carries the burden – fairly or not – of being the poster child for a dysfunctional City Council, a reputation made that way by an occasionally petulant mayor who generally can only count on the backing of two of Council’s five members. If Campbell loses to Jake Day, that balance of power would shift in Jim Ireton’s favor, assuming, of course, that he wins re-election.

So it will be interesting to see how her fundraiser goes, since it will also be a barometer for how people perceive her odds of victory. If it’s one where only a handful show up, the obvious conclusion to be drawn is that people are looking to be on the winning side and it’s not hers.

It’s a primary rerun in District 1

March 9, 2013 · Posted in Campaign 2013 - Salisbury, Delmarva items · 2 Comments 

If you want to find the person who most believes every vote counts, look no further than Salisbury District 1 Council hopeful April Jackson.

On the night of the primary election, she trailed Cynthia Polk for the second and final spot in the District 1 Council race by one vote, 40-39. Adding in the first wave of absentee and provisional ballots left her still one vote in arrears, 53-52. But the handful of absentee votes which are left aside to mix with any late votes coming in from overseas (legal as long as they are postmarked on or before Election Day) proved to have that one vote Jackson needed to draw the race for second to a 53-53 tie. The City Charter states that in such a case all those who are tied for the last spot advance, so all we accomplished in the primary election was the elimination of Jack Heath in District 2. (By the way, the 218 votes Heath received were more votes than the total cast in District 1, which was 176. District 2, which is 4/5 of the city as currently constituted, drew 1,384 votes in the aggregate.)

So what does all of this mean? Obviously with two opponents to split the anti-incumbent vote, it may bode well for Shanie Shields to keep her job in District 1 – but with so few motivated voters in that district (judging by the puny percentage which bothered to turn out for the primary) a concerted effort by any of the three could swing momentum their way.

On the other hand, District 2 voters would have to embrace Debbie Campbell once again in a big way for her to retain her seat. Even if she receives all 218 Jack Heath supporters into her camp (I suspect she will draw the majority of them) she’s still in search of 308 votes to catch Jacob Day. It’s definitely his campaign to lose.

And the dynamics of the mayor’s race may play into the general election for Council as well. The general perception is that Debbie Campbell is in the corner of mayoral challenger Joe Albero, while Day and Ireton seem to draw from the same left-wing support base. Shanie Shields seems to be the proxy for Ireton in District 1, and Cynthia Polk could well be an Albero supporter from that same district – Albero and Campbell signs dot the front of her Kim Star Designs business, with the caveat that the building is also shared by another company.

But whether Albero will be a lifeline or albatross for Campbell (or vice versa) has yet to be seen.

Salisbury elections: incumbents advance

February 26, 2013 · Posted in Campaign 2013 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

Update 2-28: Comments from Jacob Day below.

With the votes almost all counted – aside from a handful of provisional and absentee votes  - it looks like both incumbents will advance in City Council voting; however, one incumbent has a steep uphill battle to maintain her seat. Turnout for the election was pathetic, coming in under 10 percent although absentees may push turnout to double-digits.

In District 1, it’s not yet clear who will face Shanie Shields on April 2. While Shields has a comfortable lead with 55 votes, Cynthia Polk is just one vote ahead of April Jackson, by a 40-39 count. If Polk wins it will set up a District 1 rematch from 2009.

District 2 voters, however, would seem to prefer a new member of City Council. Jacob Day overwhelmed the field with 803 votes, an astounding 63% of the votes cast. Incumbent Debbie Campbell appears to have enough of a margin over third-place Jack Heath (271-197) to be the second place finisher, but she enters the general election campaign already 42 percentage points in arrears to Day, who has thus far run an aggressive campaign of signage, mailings, and door-to-door activities (including mine.) Perhaps sending in answers to my questions was the charm for Jacob.

For the pair who are eliminated, it could be a story of lost opportunities, although a one-vote difference means Jackson and Polk will be on pins and needles for several days. If April Jackson comes up short, there will always be the question of whether she would have prevailed had she not dealt with health issues in the critical final days.

As for Jack Heath, I just don’t think he ran much of a campaign. He never seemed as comfortable on the stump and didn’t have a lot of funding to get his name out there, particularly when compared to his much younger fellow challenger, who received a lot of money from the building community. Of course, there will be a group who complains that the local Republican Party did nothing to help Jack, based on the fact he came to a Republican Club meeting and had financial support from former GOP candidates, but as recently as 2010 Heath was an unaffiliated voter. In terms of messaging, Heath’s “Working Together” tagline was fairly blah and didn’t express a sense of leadership or change that’s needed.

So now the general election campaign begins; five weeks where the fighting for votes will probably take a more bitter turn.

Comment from Jacob Day:

It is energizing and encouraging to see so many people send such a clear signal that they want a change in the culture of negativism, discord and pessimism in our City government. Moreover, the message is that they want things to happen in Salisbury and we showed them that – if elected – that I will work diligently to make things happen.

I am so grateful to all of my volunteers, supporters and voters that sent this message. I am uplifted and I believe the City is as well. I want to thank Jack Heath for stepping up as a community leader, working hard in this campaign and remaining a role model throughout. I’m eager to discuss the challenges our City faces with voters and my plan for overcoming them over the next month. I am more assured than ever that we will restore partnership to Salisbury’s City government and we will restore pride and prosperity to Salisbury.

Ten Question Tuesday – February 26, 2013

Today is primary Election Day in Salisbury, so I thought it would be appropriate at this time to reveal the answers to questions I posed a few weeks back in this space. But I have to be quite frank and tell you I’m disappointed in the lack of response I received as a potential constituent of these lawmakers. Out of those who received these questions in an e-mail I only received one set of answers back, from Jake Day. Cynthia Polk also responded, but did not directly answer the questions – instead she referred me to her website and literature. Sorry, I don’t answer the questions for others – no one is interviewing me.

Since I would rate Jake’s chance of advancement after today as relatively good, keep this handy for the general election April 2.

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monoblogue: From personal experience, I can tell you the building industry has been decimated in Salisbury. We’ve had a few opportunities to redevelop various properties in the city but nothing has come to fruition. While I’d prefer private investment, the question really is how do we get people building again?

Day: First of all, you’re right. The building industry has been decimated. It will come back, though. The question is: will it come back in the City or its periphery? This has more to do with what kind of place the City is to do business. I propose dramatically changing the way government presents itself to citizens, investors and businesses. First of all, each department should develop and deliver to the Mayor and Council a ‘Business Friendly Action Plan’ to better improve customer service. This has been accomplished in many cities with a profound effect on culture in the government. Second, the City should physically present itself as open for business by opening a storefront downtown Development Office. Donations and grants should fund the space and the staff should simply consist of a rotating representative from each of the following departments: Neighborhood Services, Public Works and Planning & Zoning. This space would be a ‘first stop’ for anyone wanting to build/renovate in Salisbury. The express objective of the office would be customer service; to help shepherd people through the development and permitting process. Third, the City must create a cheerleader and a foreman for economic development projects. I am not a proponent of growing our government (and think we can work with the County over time to shrink it), but I propose in this instance that we create an Economic Development Officer position and recruit a person from the business community to become the dedicated City recruiter/cheerleader for business development and expansion. Fourth, the Mayor and Council should host a quarterly Real Estate Breakfast, simply to build relationships and determine ways to reduce barriers to investment. Fifth, the City should convene an informal discussion group of local banks to determine what the City can do to free up capital for investment. Sixth, the City must reduce economic barriers to investment. The first thing the City can do is to reduce the high cost of land by surplusing downtown City parking lots. The second task is to reduce the cost of connecting to water and sewer services by creating a bank of EDU credits downtown and in other high-priority areas. Third, impact fees should be related to economic activity. While building is down, impact fees should be kept low and no new impact fees should be approved. Seventh, we must lobby the County to eliminate (phase out) the inventory tax. This is a barrier to investment and building in the manufacturing/industrial sectors. I see that our County Council has already begun to discuss this action. Eighth, we should provide tax credits to those who improve their land in the City (especially commercial and mixed-use development) by phasing in property taxes on improvements. There are many other programs and incentives I believe can be offered to increase building activity, including: Small Business Incubator + Startup Space Locator.

monoblogue: And speaking of building, we hear a lot about how to redevelop downtown. But the city is far more than just downtown; neighborhoods are important as well. If you were to assign a percentage of importance that redeveloping downtown merits when compared to the overall picture, what would it be and why?

Day: It is impossible to assign a percentage of importance to downtown; the various measures we could use – population, assessable tax base, commercial sales – are all inadequate to paint a picture. As a mixed-use (but largely commercial) district, it is very important. That said, its importance is derived from the fact that it is the geographic center and the historic hub of our City. I can tell you that no City in America has thrived while turning its back on its downtown. It isn’t just the dogma of New Urbanists or city planners – it’s an economic fact. Increased density of economic activity has an ever-increasing multiplying effect and decreases the cost of building and operating public infrastructure. With regard to the business of the City, property taxes per acre are dramatically increased in downtown and denser areas (especially when the starting point is $0). More importantly, jobs, residents and economic activity per acre are all dramatically increased. All of this leads to the long-term ability of a government to function sustainable with minimal interference with private development and minimal (and hopefully diminishing) tax burden. So, my plan for downtown is to a) link it (reduce barriers) to other neighborhoods so that commerce can happen more freely between them; b) reduce barriers to investment (cost of land and water/sewer connection); c) create design guidelines and other tools that architects and developers can use to create more beautiful buildings; d) get the City out of the business of squatting on valuable land that could be developed by private interests. (Rather than keeping land at its lowest and worst use, the City should seek the highest and best on the property that any owner/developer in real estate would seek); and e) seek the long-term goal of opening up the plaza with a more open design, clearly delineating traffic lanes while maintaining a safe pedestrian experience, just like 95% of pedestrian plazas in the US did 20 years ago when they saw what economic failures they were.

monoblogue: In the last few years we’ve seen a number of national chain businesses open in Salisbury; some examples are Hobby Lobby, Longhorn Steak House, Party City, and Dunkin’ Donuts. Yet there’s always been a group talking about “shop local” even if it means less selection at a higher price. What are your thoughts on the local vs. chain controversy?

Day: I don’t think this is really a controversy. The argument for “shopping local” is that dollars spent at local businesses and jobs created by local business have a higher multiplier effect for economic activity. Of $100 spent at local independent stores another $45 of secondary local spending was generated, compared to $14 for a big-box chain store. Additionally, 65% of new jobs created in the past 17 were by small businesses – not all retail, but inherently rooted in community. As a Commissioner on our City/County Planning Commission I have voted in favor of many of these national chain businesses (Longhorn Steak House, Dunkin Donuts, Party City, Ulta Beauty, Men’s Wearhouse, Dairy Queen, Buffalo Wild Wings to name a few). I don’t think our desire for local businesses to succeed has to come at the expense of our community’s openness to outside investors. However, we must emphasize through marketing and other tools the importance of those local businesses. Those are the investors that will stay for generations. The evidence is there: look at the Knorr brothers, Pete Roskovich, the Hanna family and Rob Mulford.

monoblogue: We’ve already heard the contention about crime statistics in this campaign. Do you think the police department has the optimum amount of resources and manpower?

Day: Absolutely not. In conversations with our State’s Attorney’s office and the Police Department I have learned in no uncertain terms that the relationship between our ability to keep cutting crime and the resources of our Police Department are proportional. We need more officers and when we have more officers we can then re-establish the Safe Streets team, give the Criminal Investigations Division the staff it needs and then determine what other tools our department needs to be the first rate unit it should be. We must seek federal and state funding for more officers.

monoblogue: So where will we get the funding to pay for them?

Day: Fair question and the right answer is challenging to find. I believe that a 1-year extension in the cycle of vehicle replacement can afford at least one new officer’s salary in a sustainable fashion, but I am told that the true deficiency is in the dozens of officers. I would rely on Chief Duncan and the Mayor to assess the precise needs for the Council, but believe the sources are likely going to be from federal and state coffers. In the 1990’s the Federal government recognized the national shortage in officers and invested in putting new officers on the street. Barring another revolution in thinking, we need to vigorously pursue and make a case for the new officers we need from the USDOJ COPS program, Maryland’s Safe Streets (GOCCP) grants and from private foundations.

monoblogue: The subject of annexation came up at a recent forum. In my (admittedly limited) experience with the topic, my recollection is that extending city services comes with the requirement of being annexed into the city. Yet we also want to avoid the “pipestem” annexations which have given the city a very irregular shape. What incentives would you recommend to “fill in” the city’s footprint and eliminate pockets of non-incorporated land surrounded by the city?

Day: Great question. While this is not as urgent an issue as others you’ve asked about – the City does need to clarify its borders. Ultimately, it is most economically sustainable and environmentally sustainable to build infrastructure and structures in a compact way. We can do that without building like we live on Manhattan Island. That said, when we’re building, it should be on shared utilities, like City water and sewer services. That is the ideal. In developed areas adjacent to the City, we should begin a dialogue with property owners about what would incentivize incorporation into the City. Obviously, some incentives could include a reduced or phased tax burden with additional services provided (like waste collection). That said, there are likely additional incentives (representation and tax differentiation) that could be considered. If we are going to make headway in this area – we must begin conversations. Community workshops should be held around the region to discuss the relationship between service duplication, boundary resolution, tax differential and increasing incentive to live in the City. The City cannot and must not approach this issue as a City issue – it is inherently a regional one and one that will only find resolution by listening to and providing benefits for residents and business owners outside of the City’s confusing boundaries.

monoblogue: More and more, the state of Maryland is dictating how local governments operate: to me, a prime example is the Tier Map demanded from counties thanks to last year’s Septic Bill. How much interference are you willing to tolerate in city affairs from bureaucrats in Annapolis?

Day: Well, on this particular issue you reference (Tier Map) it has absolutely no effect on the City of Salisbury. 100% of the City and its growth areas are in Tier 1 and 2 and will be no matter what. That’s good news for the City. I think to get what we want from the State without losing what control we want to maintain, we must build relationships. I presume that that happens at the Mayoral level, but I know it is limited at the Council level. Only one Council member attends a majority of State and peer-municipality group events. I think we must lobby our Delegates, Senators and State officials to give us the space to determine our own destiny while giving us the resources to achieve that success. That will take relationship building.

monoblogue: As a follow-up, do you see yourself as an activist for the city at the state level or will you just concentrate on what you believe you can control within the city limits?

Day: Absolutely. We must all be advocates at the County, State, Federal (and beyond) levels to grow Salisbury’s resources and investors and to ensure we have a policy context within which to operate that sets Salisbury up for success. To ignore the role that outside investors and higher levels of government have in influencing Salisbury is to do so at our own peril. I have relationships in the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, Maryland Department of Planning, Wicomico County and advisors nationwide and globally in the realm of development and design. I would absolutely work every day to put Salisbury and its needs on their radar.

monoblogue: City finances are always in a state of flux, and one bad revenue year can mean drastic cuts the next. But let’s say your economic plans are a success and the city is suddenly flush with cash. What do you do with the surplus?

Day: First of all, I would take a look at our budget to make sure we weren’t collecting more than we needed to conduct the business of the City. Second of all, I would ensure that our surplus is invested in an operating reserve of 10% of annual general fund operating expenses. This is a standard adopted by many communities. Once this reserve is met (and maintained year-on-year), I would first invest in public safety: police officers and fire infrastructure (see FY13-FY16 CIP).

monoblogue: Finally, we hear a lot about transparency in government and communications with the citizens. I know one candidate is a member of the “new media,” for better or worse. But how would you use technology to assist in creating a more informed citizenry?

Day: I love this question. First of all, I would enlist a volunteer Digital Team to help identify how to make the city’s web site a better hub for two-way communication with citizens and visitors. Second, I would shift the city’s antiquated domain (currently at http://www.ci.salisbury.md.us) to http://salisbury.md. In fact, I’ve already purchased the domain and I will (regardless of the outcome of the election) donate it to the City after the election. Third, I would encourage the Mayor and other council members to join me in blogging about City issues on the web site. This would have to be a space free of political grandstanding, but open to reflection and sharing about very specific constituent needs and City projects. Lastly, I believe we should (like Chestertown and Cambridge) have a public WiFi network downtown. We need to be – and can be – leading the way on accessibility and transparency.

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Will these answers and his campaign at large be enough to push him into the final showdown with either Debbie Campbell or Jack Heath? We’ll likely know that answer before 11:00 tonight as voting proceeds all across Salisbury.

The $19 million question

Over the past few days mayoral candidate Joe Albero has taken to his Salisbury News website – you know, the one with no authority line – and thrice bashed incumbent Jim Ireton for scheming to raise city taxes and fees by $19 million. But is Albero correct in blaming Ireton?

Yes and no. One could extend blame to the party Ireton is a member of and the politician he supported twice for President for signing an Executive Order compelling the federal government and states to increase their tempo in restoring Chesapeake Bay. It allowed the EPA great latitude in determining a course of action (like these marching orders show – orders which include the stick of possibly “withholding, conditioning, or reallocating federal grant funds”) and established a “pollution diet” which had little to do with maintaining the economic viability of the region but more to do with pie-in-the-sky goals for the state of the Bay twelve years hence. This supposedly would “ensure that all pollution control measures needed to fully restore the Bay and its tidal rivers are in place by 2025.” (Yet, as I’ll discuss in a bit, that won’t be the end of the road. Far from it.)

Thus, the state of Maryland became a greater participant in the effort – not that Governor Martin O’Malley, who Ireton also supported for election twice, was exactly going to be dragged kicking and screaming into the prospect of further power over and control of Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay watershed population.

But it can be argued Ireton has his hands tied, and if Joe Albero wins? He still has to deal with it. As it turns out, this $76 million effort is just a portion of Salisbury’s share of costs to enact the Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan, lovingly presented to the EPA by the state of Maryland last year. This led to the mandate from the Maryland Department of the Environment for local officials to prepare a plan for Wicomico County:

As requested by MDE, each of the twenty‐three counties and Baltimore City were instructed to prepare a Phase II Watershed Implementation Plan that details / demonstrates how each jurisdiction will do their part in improving the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries across Maryland.

We in rural Maryland know all about MDE “requests.” They expect the City of Salisbury to reduce their nitrogen load to the Bay by 24% and phosphorus by 40% compared to 2010 levels by 2025. (The county as a whole has a slightly greater task, 25% and 44% respectively.)

But in the report, it details (Figure 6b) the city’s annualized cost over a 12 year period to implement the targeted reductions, and guess what? It comes out to roughly $18.9 million per year – not for the four years Albero refers to, but for the next twelve years. (For Wicomico County as a whole, the annualized cost is $57.9 million a year – a sum roughly half again the county’s budget, for the same time period. My quick math tells me that’s $700 million dollars over 12 years!)

Still, by 2025 we are supposed to have what’s termed a “fully restored” Bay, right? “Isn’t that short-term pain worth it?” proponents in the Radical Green world will likely say.

Let’s face facts here. Do you honestly think that on January 1, 2026 the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is going to release its annual water quality survey and say, “welp, the Bay now grades a 100 on our scale, so our work is done?” Not a chance in hell. The sad fact is that, regardless of what measures are taken, the only long-term solution which will really satisfy the CBF and the rest of Radical Green would seem to be entirely depopulating rural areas and packing people into cities, where all their waste can be treated in acceptable sewage plants (which sometimes leak) and otherwise allow the rural areas to return to a pristine, John Smith-era condition. Sorry, rural landowners, your property is now worthless. Poultry industry, you’re banished.

Joe Albero can bash his opponent all he wants, but it doesn’t matter because the problem isn’t Jim Ireton – it’s Radical Green. We just won’t have as much green to live on thanks to them.

Yet there is something which can be done. While we have the Phase II WIP in place, what we don’t know are the steps which need to be undertaken. In short, what we should be asking for is a precise accounting of where this $19 million is going to go every year. Otherwise, we know what happens when a large pot of money extorted from ratepayers is left out there – greedy hands line their pockets with it and waste it on boondoggle projects. (For an example, see: pilfering of gasoline tax to General Fund for deficit reduction rather than fixing roads and bridges, Maryland.) That’s where Joe should focus his efforts, because we’re already stuck with this tab unless he can convince a number of unfriendly courts otherwise. Unfortunately, the best time to act on this has long since passed, not that Maryland’s leadership would ever dare to tell Uncle Sam and his overreaching minions to go pound sand anyway.

Long-term, this subject should be front and center in any discussion of how federal mandates adversely affect the states. There is a lot more bang for the buck in reducing nitrogen levels upstream of Chesapeake Bay and in urban water treatment plants, yet instead some used the Bay and this WIP as an excuse to wrest control of land use issues from the counties by passing the Septic Bill (SB236.) This bill won’t solve the problem but creates a situation where we are beholden even more to our Annapolis and Washington, D.C. overlords.

Something that’s often forgotten is the fact America is one of the cleanest countries on earth; meanwhile, areas of the communist world have been rendered uninhabitable by environmental disasters created by an uncaring government. There’s no question people would prefer the Bay be clean, but the effort should be voluntary and balanced with regard to the rights of property owners. The EPA’s solution is neither voluntary nor balanced, and our charge in the future should be one of restoring accountability to an unchecked bureaucracy, respect for private property, and free will – in short, government closer to that which our Founders intended.

Salisbury money races have surprising leaders

If you were wondering whether the challengers could financially keep up with the incumbents in the Salisbury primary elections, wonder no more. The initial pre-primary financial reports are out and there are some intriguing results.

First of all, it’s no surprise that the small District 1 race has attracted very little in the way of contributions; in fact, challenger Cynthia Polk begged off the detailed report as she didn’t raise enough. Fellow challenger April Jackson has only raised $595 from just four contributors, with the most interesting one being $200 from Friends of (Delegate) Rudy Cane. Incumbent Shanie Shields has raised $860 from 19 different benefactors, with the largest being a city-mandated maximum contribution of $250 from former Salisbury mayor Barrie Tilghman.

As would turn out to be the case for most contenders, the largest expenditure for the District 1 aspirants was signage, although Shields spent over $150 on a fundraiser which apparently only about broke even, based on contribution amounts.

More surprising was the amount of money raised on the District 2 race and who’s raised it. Jacob Day is the clear fundraising leader, with 50 line-item contributions (some were by couples) totaling $6,295. Out of all eight candidates, Day just missed being the overall head of the class – with a caveat, as I’ll explain later. Former mayor Barrie Tilghman maxed out her contribution to Day with $250, but so did a number of others I recognized as local builders, realtors, and developers – Brad Gillis, Michael Weisner, Ronald Morgan (of Becker Morgan Architects), members of the Gilkerson family, and so forth. Also worth noting on Day is that 30% of his individual contributions came from outside the area. The only other candidate with a similar profile is Jackson, who received two of her four donations from a Florida family – perhaps related?

Meanwhile, Jack Heath finished a distant second in contributions with $2,400 from 26 benefactors. A number of prominent local Republicans were in that group, including former County Executive candidates Ron Alessi and Joe Ollinger, who both chipped in $100 apiece. However, Heath also has over $2,800 in loans outstanding – all to wife Linda.

In a bit of a surprise, incumbent Debbie Campbell lags behind in the money race having raised only $1,026 from ten contributors, including $250 from herself.

As was the case in District 1 signage was among the leading expenditures for all three District 2 contenders, although Heath has also invested in a mailing. (It may not have reflected on this report, but my fiance and I both received a mailing from Day yesterday so his fundraising prowess is being spent.)

The mayor’s race, though, proves to be an interesting case in campaign finance.

Incumbent Jim Ireton takes the prize for neatest and easiest-to-decipher report, for the most part. There are 79 contributors listed, who donated a total of $5,818.65. (Five donated a hokey amount of $20.13, which explains the odd total.) His contributors run the gamut from local progressives to a number of local politicians like former County Councilman David MacLeod, Register of Wills Karen Lemon, and perennial Orphans’ Court candidate Peter Evans. There are also Democrats from around the state who added to the pot, such as Delegates Luke Clippinger, Maggie McIntosh, and Anne Kaiser, along with unsuccessful District 1 write-in Congressional candidate John LaFerla. Even Salisbury University president Janet Dudley-Eshbach and local left-wing activists Mike Pretl and Harry Basehart added a few dollars to Ireton’s till.

On the other hand, challenger Joe Albero raised the most money with $6,550. But as I said earlier, there’s a caveat – Albero donated $5,000 to his own cause. The other $1,550 came from just a dozen contributors, several of which were businesses. Included among that subset were Electrical Solutions, Gary Pusey & Sons, MoJo Management, Market Street Inn, Ltd., and Crown Sports Center. It’s not illegal, but Albero has by far the highest proportion of these business-based contributions. A perusal of Albero’s Salisbury News website shows several of these businesses are also advertisers.

It’s also worth mentioning that while Albero’s “official” shell of a mayoral website that’s currently ‘under construction’ has an authority line, Salisbury News - a site where Joe freely takes swipes at his opponent under the guise of “news” – does not. The same is true, however, of the rarely-updated On Your Side blog where Campbell is listed as a contributor along with Council president Terry Cohen, although Debbie apparently hasn’t authored a post since at least 2011. Neither Campbell nor Cohen post an authority line there, although tucked at the bottom is a disclaimer that they speak for themselves and not the whole Council.

Once again, signage seemed to be the largest expenditure in the mayoral race. But it’s interesting to note that the services of DiCarlo Printing were sought by both mayoral candidates as well as Jacob Day. John Robinson’s printing business was also a supplier to Albero and Day. The other candidates mainly utilized other local printers for their signage, although Campbell chose an out-of-state printer for hers. And while I don’t want this to be perceived as “pick on Albero” day, shouldn’t he have included the cost of his “Albero for Mayor” shirts as an expenditure? While he hadn’t officially filed yet at the time the shirts were designed and purchased, it would probably be prudent for the record to know where that money came from and who the supplier was.

But to me, the biggest surprise was how poorly the District 2 incumbent is doing in the fundraising department. While it’s quite likely she can survive the first round based on her name recognition, it’s very difficult to make up ground in the remaining weeks before the general election. In the last several cycles, those who finished “in the money” in the primary went on to win almost every time. The one recent exception I could find was where Gary Comegys overtook Tim Spies to grab the third and final spot in 2007 – Spies was third in the primary. But the dynamics of a “top three” race are different than this winner-take-all set of battles.

On Tuesday we will find out if all that money raised by the challengers is enough to secure a position in the General Election April 2.

Chamber/PACE Council forum attracts interested voters

Five of six Salisbury City Council hopefuls pleaded their cases before over 100 voters and observers at Perdue Hall on the campus of Salisbury University last evening. Included among the audience were the other three members of City Council not up for election and mayoral candidate Joe Albero. Mayor Jim Ireton was a no-show from the event as was District 1 candidate April Jackson, who was dealing with “health issues.”

Unfortunately, I arrived a little late and missed most of the candidates’ opening statements. But the questions, delivered by moderator Ernie Colburn, mainly dealt with the business aspect of Salisbury – something to be expected when a co-sponsor is the local Chamber of Commerce.

One example was the lidlifter, which asked candidates what their top three priorities for change would be. Shanie Shields would “build partnerships for positive change,” focusing on business, education, and advocating for a STEM program (science, technology, engineering, and math.) Her District 1 opponent, Cynthia Polk, told the audience “my first priority would be jobs.” She wanted to take advantage of local universities and the proximity of Wallops Island as well.

District 2 incumbent Debbie Campbell believed the “things we can do are only limited by our ability to work real hard.” Economic development and public safety were among the items she wished to focus on in a third term, citing her “attention to detail” as an asset. She pointed to the River’s Edge development as a possible way to drive tourism business from Ocean City.

Meanwhile, Jake Day saw it as a matter of restoring prosperity and pride, particularly pride in our government, which he claimed suffered from a “culture of antagonism and pessimism…it has to change.” He wanted to encourage more youth involvement as well.

“My role will be one of a catalyst and culture changer,” said Jack Heath. He then reiterated the familiar themes he’s established throughout his campaign: enhancing the quality of life through jobs, recreation, education, and a safe environment, creating an inviting and vibrant downtown, and having the city government adopt the best ideas regardless of where they came from.

The next question seemed to be tailored as an attack on District 2 incumbent Debbie Campbell, since it asked about the “culture of ‘no’” on the City Council. Heath drew the first response, calling himself “a negotiator…it all starts with culture.” He vowed that, if elected, “I will sign a civility agreement” and ask the others to sign as well. Jake Day agreed, saying we needed open communication and “an entire culture shift.” He promised to establish what he called “coffee talks” and a mayoral/council blog. (It’s worth pointing out that one mayoral candidate and two Council members already have blog sites.)

Debbie Campbell is one of those Council bloggers, but she disagreed with the premise of the question. “This Council has said yes to 70 out of 80 ordinances and 190 out of 200 resolutions,” she countered. If the Daily Times would put news on the news pages and opinion on the opinion pages, we would be better off, she assessed. On the other hand, the renovated Bateman Street/Onley Road intersection was an example where “no” eventually became “yes” once the project was improved, said Campbell.

Shanie Shields disputed Campbell’s account, noting that some of the projects which Council rejected would benefit District 1, like the Bricks project. She wouldn’t sign the Heath civility agreement, since it’s “just a piece of paper,” but wanted to bring back the goal-setting sessions Council used to have.

While Cynthia Polk didn’t have experience with the Council, she pointed back to her time at the former Dresser facility where she organized the employee assistance program. Citing the declining health of her husband of 46 years, she wistfully noted that “once I become a city council person, that’s my family. Family is everything.”

Returning to the economic scene, the question of how to attract higher-paying jobs was next. Debbie Campbell drew the leadoff answer and declared “I think that we leverage what we have…(Salisbury is) uniquely positioned to fill a void” on tech jobs. One other idea worth implementing was using the excess EDUs from the Linens of the Week property, offering them to an entrepreneur who could utilize the property as a job creator.

Shanie Shields, however, believed that property should revert to something along the lines of the neighborhood’s residential nature, like a community center. We need to give kids hands-on experience, Shanie declared, but concluded by asking the question “Are we business-friendly in this town? The answer is no.”

Jake Day used a sports analogy to begin his answer. “We have a great defense, but we need to turn it to a great offense.” He walked through a laundry list of accomplishments from those in his high school class, pointing out one thing in common: they weren’t done here. The kids left Salisbury because opportunities weren’t here, said Day. We need to be more proactive and set ourselves up for success, continued Jake, adding we should remove investment barriers, create a business incubator, and have a full-time economic development officer. Opponent Jack Heath more or less agreed with Day, adding “we need to challenge the university” to come up with additional ideas.

Cynthia Polk recalled the “runaround” she had to endure when opening her business, making the suggestion that it could be done as a piece of software the city could sell.

The next topic got the luxury of longer responses, and crime was the subject. Again Campbell received the lead answer, and she told the audience that while we’ve made progress – in part due to the Safe Streets program – there’s a long way to go. Debbie bemoaned the fact that, for years, the city lost officers to other jurisdictions where they could be paid better, but salary adjustments were made in this budget and the mayor chose not to veto them.

When it comes to increased pay for officers, “I couldn’t agree more,” said Jake Day. But he went further, calling for another 30 police officers. He warned we’ll have to make “hard choices” when it comes to other investments, but didn’t want to ignore technology improvements, either. Those were far down his list of crime-fighting measures, however, as the extra personnel was key.

Jack Heath, however, cautioned there’s another side of the issue – “Thirty cops is extremely expensive.” He quoted a figure of $100,000 per officer (which means the city would need another $3 million each year for 30 more police officers.) Technology could help in high crime areas, he added, but he would defer to the wishes of police Chief Barbara Duncan.

“You can’t lock everyone up,” said Cynthia Polk in her response, which focused more on the root causes. “I don’t know how much that would cost,” she said of after-school programs, but she felt something was needed to respond to a “sense of desperation” on the west side. Polk also came up with a thought about teaching chess in these after-school programs, claiming you could tell the difference between a “chess mind” and a “checkers mind.”

Shanie Shields was more clear: “I do not want to see the city become a police state…most of the people in jail look like me and Cynthia.” (All three District 1 candidates are black.) She called on more preventative programs, but believed they should be funded by Annapolis and Washington, “instead of locking up people.”

The next question dealt with the choice between raising taxes and cutting services. “That’s a loaded question,” Jack Heath replied. He believed revenue could be gained through increasing economic activity.

Jake Day agreed with that principle, although he couched it in terms of increasing property values. To achieve that end, Day called for a downtown-centric approach, wondering aloud how a city could value riverfront surface parking when “we have to create vibrant, livable places.” He repeated an earlier point about removing barriers to investment, and wanted to use budget surpluses to keep a 10% operating reserve. In the meantime, though, “we may need to cut services.”

Debbie Campbell disagreed, though. “This year proved we didn’t have to do either,” she noted. In fact, they funded a few extra items to avoid a tax increase as the budget plan they adopted had items she didn’t care for funding. And after she pointed out that business development pays for itself (as opposed to residential development being a net loss) Campbell concluded “you need a legislator who sharpens her pencil every year.”

Shanie Shields also believed the mayor didn’t have to raise taxes. “Taxes are a bad word,” said Shanie, but she also warned “you can’t cut everything in a budget…I don’t believe in going line by line.” Shainie also bemoaned the fact we have no retail downtown, complaining you have to get in the car and run to Royal Farms or Walgreens to get an aspirin.

So how do we create a business-friendly climate? the body was asked. For Jack Heath the answer was simple: it’s culture. Negotiate the best deals possible, and return to the inclusion process the city had several years ago. Cynthia Polk extended this inclusion idea to one of cultural inclusion, calling for a downtown filled with ethnic eateries.

Debbie Campbell was more direct: “I don’t believe in developer giveaways,” she said. But instead of dealing with excessive bureaucracy, business developers “ought to feel like they just checked into a five-star hotel,” Campbell concluded.

On the other hand, Shanie Shields called herself a “business-friendly person” and told those gathered we need to bring people to the table. We weren’t willing to work with the developers of the abandoned Station 16 project, a building which is downtown sitting empty, said Shanie. She praised the expansion of Salisbury’s enterprise zone to new areas along Snow Hill Road and Eastern Shore Drive.

Once again pounding the themes of being proactive and reducing barriers, Jake Day said we need to become a community willing to invest in itself. But we need no new impact fees, Day said.

The closing statements were quite diverse. Cynthia Polk made it known that she’s not the greatest public speaker, but she had other skills in business ownership and development to make up for it. “I am very versatile,” she said. “I look at people from soul to soul.”

Shanie Shields felt it was her “experience and love for people” that gave her the edge. She spoke about growing up in Salisbury and dealing with family tragedies here, but she had chosen to stay in the town where she was born.

“I stand on my record,” said Debbie Campbell. Noting that legislation required someone who was “detail-oriented,” she cautioned that if a proposal violates state or federal law, “that should be enough to stop you.” It was not her goal to have a “rubber-stamp Council.”

Vowing to bring a “new energy” and “spirit of partnership,” Jake Day seized a little bit on Campbell’s theme, noting that his time in the Army had made him a leader, a planner, and detail-oriented. He would work hard in the position, Day added.

The final word belonged to Jack Heath, who, when asked why he was interrupting his retirement to run, said it was because he loves the city. “Work needs to be done (and) I have the experience,” Heath stated. He promised to make decisions based not on his personal beliefs but what was best for Salisbury.

This is among the final public forums for the six City Council candidates, who will be whittled down to four come next Tuesday. Obviously April Jackson’s health issues come at a most inopportune time as she faces two political veterans, and it may be hard for her to overcome that disadvantage. Yet with such a tiny probable number of votes cast in her district, it’s really difficult to know just how the District 1 race will turn out.

In District 2, however, I suspect Campbell and Day have the advantage going into the final weekend. Jack Heath needs to make a last-minute push for votes to avoid elimination, as I see it.

A week of hearings and forums

For some reason, next week is very busy with meetings in the public interest for local residents.

In fact, that docket begins today with a townhall meeting on the Second Amendment hosted by Congressman Andy Harris and featuring local perspective from Delegates Mike McDermott and Charles Otto. That’s going on at noon today out in Ocean City at the Holiday Inn Oceanfront, 6600 Coastal Highway. I would expect my friend Jackie Wellfonder will have full coverage on her site, since I can’t make it. (Right Coast Conservative beat Jackie to it.)

After catching a breather tomorrow, Monday’s a holiday. But it’s not stopping the Daily Times from hosting the first of two City Council forums, this one for residents in District 1. As reporter Jeremy Cox alerted me, The Daily Times ”wants to hear what issues matter most in the Salisbury city elections. Whatever issues are voted on by the community will be put to the candidates for their positions and become newspaper stories ahead of the Feb. 26 primary and April 2 general election. Light refreshments will be served.”

That Monday meeting will be held at the First Baptist Church at the corner of Delaware and Booth Streets in Salisbury from 5-7 p.m. It’s the same location where the NAACP forum was held last month. One thing not made clear is whether mayoral candidates Joe Albero and Jim Ireton would be invited; my assumption is that they are. But since they’re not subjected to the primary they may only come to observe the potential council member they’ll work with from District 1, whether it’s incumbent Shanie Shields, newcomer April Jackson, or the inimitable Cynthia Polk.

On Tuesday there will be a City Council Debate at Perdue Hall (Room 156) on Salisbury University’s campus, sponsored by the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce. It will run from 7-8:30 p.m. Questions from the public are encouraged, and can be submitted through either the Chamber’s Facebook page or via e-mail: chamber (at) salisburyarea.com. (Since there’s no mayoral primary, those two candidates will duke it out on March 26, along with the four City Council primary survivors.)

Wednesday turns to a meeting of another sort, as the Wicomico County Council is holding a hearing on the proposed Tier Maps at 6 p.m. in the Midway Room of the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center:

The Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012, commonly referred to as the Septic Bil (sic), enacted by the State of Maryland, may limit the number of residential septic systems allowed on property within the A-1 Agricultural-Rural Zoning District.

The Wicomico County Council will hear public comments regarding the area proposed for limiting septic systems and requests that all interested persons appear at said time and place for the purpose of expressing their views and opinions concerning the matter.

In addition, this legislation may impact the future use and value of your property.

This meeting should bring a lot of spirited discussion, mostly in opposition to the state’s taking over of the approval process (as they have to rubberstamp these tier plans, or else certain developments can’t be approved.)

Finally, Thursday will bring the second of two Daily Times candidate forums as the hopefuls for District 2 take the stage. This event will also be held at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center from 5-7 p.m. Voters in that district will need to choose between incumbent Debbie Campbell and first-time aspirants Jake Day or Jack Heath.

Wow. I’m not sure I can make all of those events with my outside work schedule – that 5 p.m. Thursday start looks awful tenuous (and that’s my district to boot.) So it may be up to you to see for yourself what all the hubbub is about.

Next Page »

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    First District - Congress

    Andy Harris (R)
    Bill Tilghman (D)

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    Maryland General Assembly (local)

    Senate District 37

    Addie Eckardt (R)
    Christopher Robinson (D)

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    House District 37B

    Republican

    Christopher Adams (R)
    Johnny Mautz (R)
    Rodney Benjamin (D)
    Keasha Haythe (D)

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    Senate District 38

    Mike McDermott (R)

    Jim Mathias (D)

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    House District 38A

    Charles Otto (R)
    Percy Purnell, Jr. (D)

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    House District 38B

    Carl Anderton, Jr. (R)

    Norm Conway (D)

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    House District 38C

    Mary Beth Carozza. (R)

    Judy Davis (D)

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    Wicomico County

    County Executive

    Bob Culver (R)
    Rick Pollitt (D)

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    John Cannon (R)
    Matt Holloway (R)
    Laura Mitchell (D)

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    Council District 2

    Marc Kilmer (R)
    Kirby Travers (D)

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    Council District 3

    Larry Dodd (R)
    Josh Hastings (D)