A look ahead: 2014 in Wicomico County

I covered some of the events from this year last night, but as we enter 2014 some interesting political campaigns and battles are taking shape.

The largest question for 2014 will obviously be who gets the keys for the next four years as County Executive, with the sidebar being whether he, along with County Council and some other leadership, will be paid more. I suspect the latter measure will be voted in with a close vote, as the County Council seems to have its Republicans divided into two groups of three, one being much less fiscally conservative than the other and carrying a 4-3 vote when they side with the lone Democrat.

As for that County Executive race, Republican County Council at-large member Bob Culver announced earlier this month that he would seek the office for a second time, with current County Executive Rick Pollitt planning to file for a third term next month. Pollitt is the only chief executive the county has known, winning the position in 2006 over Republican Ron Alessi and narrowly escaping a challenge from first-time officeseeker Joe Ollinger in 2010. Culver has a history in running for County Executive, though; finishing a distant third in the three-way GOP primary race in 2006 with 23% of the vote. And while he managed to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010, he was second overall to political neophyte Matt Holloway.

Whoever wins the County Executive race, he will be dealing with a radically revised County Council. Much like the 2006 election, which marked the end of a commission style of government with the Council serving as leadership, the 2014 balloting will result in large turnover. That 2006 campaign featured none of the four incumbent Democrats, all of whom decided not to seek another term as legislators rather than commissioners, while one of the three Republicans lost in the primary. Eight years later, while Matt Holloway has filed for another term at large, Culver will seek the County Executive position and leave the other at-large seat to another. Republican Muir Boda is thus far the only other one to file.

The districts will be where the real change occurs, though. Not only were some of the battle lines radically redrawn by redistricting, but only District 5 Council member Joe Holloway is truly seeking re-election, since District 4’s John Hall will be running for the first time for the seat he holds. Hall was appointed in 2011 to finish the term of the late Bob Caldwell, who died in office after winning the closest county election in recent memory. Caldwell unseated incumbent Democrat David MacLeod by two votes out of 4,072 cast.

Yet three district Council members will not be seeking another term – the body’s lone Democrat, Sheree Sample-Hughes of District 1 is seeking a seat in the House of Delegates, while Stevie Prettyman in District 2 and Gail Bartkovich of District 3 opted not to stand for re-election after lengthy tenures. They were the lone holdovers in the aforementioned 2006 election, and it’s possible 2014 will be similar. Two Democrats, Ernest Davis and McKinley Hayward, have already filed in District 1; meanwhile, the District 2 seat has attracted Republican Marc Kilmer.

For the most part, other county offices will hold their status quo as most incumbents have already filed for re-election. The only turnover will be in the Orphan’s Court, where two of the three current members had previously indicated their current term would be their last. Republican Grover Cantwell has already filed, but will likely be joined by a host of others from both parties – raising the prospect of contested primaries on both sides.

And while many of these officers will receive a modest bump in their paychecks in 2015, they will be hoping that 2014 brings a resolution to a number of nagging issues. Our small county can’t do a whole lot to improve the national economy, but financial pressures brought on by a shrinking income tax base and flagging property values will press County Executive Pollitt to submit a far leaner budget than he might like in an election year. While the state gave Pollitt an “out” by allowing him a workaround to the county’s revenue cap to fund local schools, the money may not be there for everything government wants – particlarly since the other end of that state deal was a larger maintenance of effort requirement. It’s noteworthy that Pollitt was vague about 2014 plans in his recent State of the County address.

The state mandates will also affect our planning. Our development is currently stymied by state law, which severely curtails the subdivision of land in areas not served by a municipal sewage system because we haven’t submitted an approved tier map. Wicomico County is closing in on a year overdue with the map, which has met resistance because farmers are understandably worried about their property values should they be placed in the most restrictive development tier. Most likely this will lead to a solution few on the local level will embrace. We also may find our county has to enact the dreaded “rain tax” since we’re one of the more populous counties not to have one yet – so we are in line.

Accountability for county schools may become an issue as well. Stymied by a legislative delegation which won’t allow the citizens a say in whether they desire an elected school board because County Executive Pollitt demands public proof of favorability – despite the 6-1 vote County Council made in favor of the resolution – the alternative may indeed become one of petitioning the issue to the ballot. The end result could be a compromise to place the issue on the 2016 ballot, one which will have a larger turnout and not feature the two Delegates who have stood in the way of Wicomico County joining the vast majority of others in Maryland and across the country which have elected bodies to monitor local education.

Obviously there will be a number of other issues which crop up in the upcoming year, but as we stand here looking forward it appears the local government is far more at the mercy of their state and national counterparts than many here feel comfortable being. These entities will be looked at tomorrow and Tuesday, the final two days of a politically bruising year.

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.

Candidates sought for District 4 seat

First, the boilerplate:

The members of the Wicomico County Council have expressed their condolences and sincere sympathy to the family of Bob Caldwell, who was elected from District 4 and served on the County Council with honor and distinction, until his death on October 11th. The County Charter states that when a council vacancy occurs before the end of the term of office, the Central Committee of the party to which the respective member so vacating was affiliated, shall prepare and submit to the County Council a list of four nominees for the vacated council seat. Each of the nominees must be of the same political affiliation and reside in the same councilmanic district as the council member whose seat has become vacated.

As Bob Caldwell was a registered Republican, the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee is seeking District 4 Republicans who are interested in being nominated for appointment to the County Council. Interested persons should contact Dave Parker, Central Committee Chairman, at 410 749-4030, or WiCoGOPChair@yahoo.com for complete information about applying. The GOP Central Committee is asking for all materials to be submitted to the Committee by October 31st. The GOP Central Committee will screen all applicants and it plans to conduct interviews on November 7th.

This notice is issued by the Wicomico County Council on behalf of the GOP Central Committee to help inform members of the public and potential applicants of the procedure. When the Committee has compiled its list of four nominees, it will be submitted to the County Council. The County Council will consider and interview the nominees, one of which will be selected for appointment by a majority vote of the remaining members of the County Council.

Wicomico County Council

Gail M. Bartkovich
County Council President

Now here’s what would be on my wish list for someone to nominate.

  • A young person, preferably born after me (I’m 47.)
  • Doesn’t matter to me if it’s a man or woman; after all whichever gender is picked has the majority.
  • Is conservative but is also perceived to be electable for the district, which skews Democratic.
  • Acceptable to the TEA Party, which likely goes with the point above, and finally…
  • Has already contemplated how to run and win in 2014 regardless of what the district may look like – remember, we haven’t done our redistricting yet.

Not much to live up to, huh? I’ve already had one prospective person call me so I guess the race is on.

Oh, and to those who always say their vote doesn’t count – had one person changed their mind last year and the coin flipped wrong, we might be talking about the Democratic Central Committee making this decision had David MacLeod met his fate instead of Bob Caldwell. Food for thought.

Wicomico County Council promises new direction

Last night a packed house (for once) attended a Wicomico County Council meeting which was short on legislative action but long on emotion as three new members replaced three outgoing ones. These are my observations.

The meeting was essentially comprised of two rounds of remarks sandwiching the actual ceremony of Council members being sworn in and receiving their certificates. (I noticed they are similar to the ones I have for being on Central Committee; I would have expected something a little different.)

The outgoing councilman who spoke first was John Cannon, who opted to make an attempt for state office rather than maintain the Council seat he won in 2006. “I think we have done some great work over the last four years,” said John.

He also praised County Executive Rick Pollitt for doing “an excellent job” and county citizens for being “very receptive” and “very nice.” But he also pleaded, “there’s been a lot of unity in this Council…I urge you to continue that.”

Bill McCain, who only wished to serve one term and thus didn’t seek re-election, finished his service by encouraging those present to serve the community and praising John Cannon as a “good political example” of someone he could have political differences with amicably. “I leave this Council (as I started) with no personal agenda,” McCain concluded.

Looking at the situation with his usual sense of humor, David MacLeod asked, “please look up when you’re talking to me…everyone thinks I’m still looking for two votes. It is what it is.” He praised his successor Bob Caldwell as “a fine gentleman” and joked about being asked to go on Comedy Central if he didn’t win.

But he looked back at his term by recalling, “I had no idea what I was getting into when I ran for office (but) it was really exciting.”

“Wicomico County is a gift…when I finally came to Wicomico County (after living all over the world) I knew I found home,” stated MacLeod, who said he would remain available and accessible if needed.

Stevie Prettyman, who survived a re-election challenge, piped in that she would miss MacLeod for his sense of humor, Bill McCain for his influence, and John Cannon for his shyness.

After running unopposed, Joe Holloway thanked his cohorts and the voters and pledged, “I look forward to serving the taxpayers of Wicomico County…with diligence and enthusiasm.”

Sheree Sample-Hughes spoke of the “blessing and privilege” of serving for the betterment of her children’s lives and was most pleased that the current council was civil despite their disagreements. “That shows we are leaders,” she said. She also stated she’d miss John Cannon as her “tag team partner” at meetings they both attended, Bill McCain as a “big brother,” and David MacLeod for his sense of humor and keeping her motivated.

Finally, Council President Gail Bartkovich told those assembled it was rewarding and humbling to serve as Council president. And while she was sorry her departing fellow Council members were leaving, she was looking forward to “a great new Council.” She also had special thanks for her husband John, who until recently served as the chair of the Wicomico County Republican Party, for getting her started in politics.

After each spoke, we took a short break as the incoming Council was gathered to be sworn in by Clerk of the Courts Mark Bowen and then posed for pictures. (Among other places with pictures of the event is Right Coast.)

The first order of business was to elect new officers. No one objected when Bob Culver nominated Joe Holloway to be Council Vice-President and Matt Holloway nominated Gail Bartkovich to return as Council President. It’s worthy to note that their terms as officers only last until December, 2011 – by charter, each year a new officer election is held.

After the ceremony, the newly-minted Council made their remarks.

Bob Caldwell thanked his election opponent David MacLeod for an exhilarating, civil, and humorous campaign, although he pointed out in referring to a published remark by MacLeod that, “I would be much more comfortable if he’d lost by a 2,000 votes as well.” He also wanted in his thanks to “drop three f-bombs on Council” – faith, family, and friends.

Sheree Sample-Hughes thanked her “Team 1” and told us “I look forward to serving with integrity and honesty.”

Joe Holloway thanked his fellows for supporting him as vice-president and vowed to “bring respect to Council.” His departing cohorts were “always gentlemen,” he continued, but Joe also warned that, “we have four years as tough as the last four – our work is cut out for us.”

Bob Culver also gave thanks and reminded us, “I know why I was elected…for the business part of my experience.” He promised to “do what I was elected to do” as a member of Council.

Stevie Prettyman reminisced about the “positive energy” she felt at her initial swearing in 12 years ago, but cautioned that the economy was much better then. Now, “it’s going to be a tough four years…we’re going to have to make some tough choices and tough decisions and do things differently.”

Matt Holloway was the most brief, thanking his family and supporters and “really looking forward to working with this Council” to make Wicomico County “the place it could be.”

Gail Bartkovich promised as President to maintain the transparency initiatives she started, keep her fellows informed, and give them an equal right to place those items on the agenda which they promised their voters they would do. But this would be her one and only year as Council President as she pledged to pass the gavel this time next year.

After she finished, Gail invited us to a brief reception in the adjacent room with refreshments – not at taxpayer expense, as she reminded us.

So we have a new Council and they get down to real county business Tuesday, December 21. Indeed, it should be an interesting four years.

Caldwell officially in

It may not be his WORST nightmare, but Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt will be matching wits with a solid vetoproof bloc of six Republicans on Wicomico County Council.

Bob Caldwell just let me know: “It is official!  The count was done today, and the original numbers stood.”

His 2 vote margin was perhaps the smallest in the state for a race of such a size, but Bob will join fellow new members Bob Culver and Matt Holloway in beginning his Council tenure next Tuesday. Four incumbents remain: Stevie Prettyman, Gail Bartkovich, Joe Holloway, and Sheree Sample-Hughes (who is now the lone Democrat.)

Let’s hope the closeness of the margin doesn’t affect Bob’s friendship with outgoing Councilman David MacLeod, whom I suspect isn’t leaving the stage of county affairs.

But things are going to be different around here beginning next week, and they better hit the ground running!

The Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

Maybe it wasn’t the pinnacle political event of the year, but there was a nice presence over the weekend at Pemberton Historical Park. There were a few elected officials about to kick it off, including County Executive Rick Pollitt and County Council members John Cannon and David MacLeod.

In the end, though, it was about the beer!

It was nice of 16 Mile Brewery to take the lead on that one, as one of our (more or less) local brewers. Impressively, only 5 of the 27 brewers represented came from the Delmarva area. Here is some of 16 Mile’s best work, I believe this is their Old Court Ale.

Who knows, it could be the Amber Sun too. I tried all of their stuff and liked it. So did a lot of other people, as the next three pictures show.

Respectively, the pictures were taken at 3 p.m. Saturday, 1:45 p.m. Sunday, and 4 p.m. Sunday. I was told there were 1800 tickets sold on Saturday so I’d estimate they got around 800 to 1000 Sunday. Not bad for an event where vendors were told to expect 2000 for the weekend.

One intriguing aspect of the event was a sports theme, sort of like an outdoor mancave. You had your tent with two large-screen televisions, a row for various games and contests, and this simulator.

Strangely enough, this car was absent Sunday, which left the field open for frisbee and football tossing. No big loss.

And yes, we did our political thing.

Business was pretty good on Saturday, perhaps a little slow on Sunday. Most of the interest was naturally in the Ehrlich-O’Malley race, but other politicians showed up to garner votes.

Among them was County Executive candidate Joe Ollinger, who came both days. Here he’s pictured with Greg Belcher, who was kind enough to help me staff the tent both days.

On Sunday, District 38B contender Marty Pusey stopped by with a friend.

In reality, she was only getting even for Norm Conway, who had wandered around the festival the day before. I had a picture of Seth Mitchell out garnering votes, but decided not to use it. (He looked a little angry, even though I don’t think he was completely distressed by the fact there was a Republican tent.)

There was even a political overtone to some of the vendors. Not only was the Parsonsburg Fire Department selling raffle tickets, but their members who were present were clear on where they stood.

Since the weekend was also filled with music, I have a lot more pictures for a future post. But that will come in time.

Debate at FOP/PACE forum part 1 – the ‘potted plants’

Perhaps County Council candidate Bob Caldwell said it best in his closing remarks. Pointing to the side of the room where the duo running for State’s Attorney were sitting, he quipped, “(Over there) we have passion, and (on this side) potted plants.”

Indeed, most of the interest in the event came out of a contentious exchange between State’s Attorney candidates Matt Maciarello and W. Seth Mitchell. But a total of ten candidates had something to say during the event, while three others submitted written answers to questions presumably posed by the moderator, PACE director Dr. Adam Hoffman.

Since it works out well for post length to discuss the six County Council candidates who showed (plus the three who submitted written statements) as one post and save the County Executive and State’s Attorney for a later post, I’m going to do it that way – otherwise I’m looking at a 3,000-plus word post. So you get a tease.

The format was a little bit different than most, with the candidates not only presenting their opening statements but also answers to two questions regarding ideas to deal with the surge in crime we’ve had locally and why voters should choose you over your opponent, all in one four-minute monologue. Once these questions were answered, the format allowed for a few questions supplied by the audience and closing remarks.

Instead of working in strict chronological order, I’m going to summarize what each candidate said in order of their contest. One weakness of the format was that opponents in some Council races did not necessarily speak consecutively; this summary will correct that. For the record, all but one County Council candidate was represented – Dave Goslee, Jr. in District 1 did not attend or submit the questionnaire, while both District 2 contenders Mike Calpino and Stevie Prettyman along with at-large hopeful Matt Holloway submitted written remarks read by Dr. Hoffman.

So I’ll begin with County Council at-large posts and run in alphabetical order through them and on to the contested district seats.

David Cowall began by noting the turnout, “reinforces my faith in democracy.” He went on to point out that, in reality, crime statewide and even in Wicomico County has declined, at least statistically. And while he was “impressed” with the cooperation between law enforcement officers (hereafter referred to as LEOs with the phrase ‘law enforcement’ similarly abbreviated), we should focus on repeat offenders. Yet “we need to emphasize the professionalism” of LEOs – “we don’t need Barney Fife as our deputy sheriff.”

He also promoted his background as a former Naval officer, cancer specialist, and director of Coastal Hospice, which he termed “an excellent model for government.” To him, it’s more important to educate than incarcerate.

In his closing statement, he added a touch of humor by saying, “I want to bring back beards for elected officials.” But he stressed the ideas of civility, integrity, and hard work and concluded, “I’m not a particularly partisan person.”

Bob Culver stressed his business experience numerous times during his presentations, making the argument that the county needs a businesslike approach to governance. (As you’ll read in the next installment, he and Joe Ollinger were on similar pages.) To him, the agriculture industry needs to stay as our number one job producer, along with an emphasis on tourism.

One interesting idea brought up by Culver was the thought of having part-time officers as Ocean City does during the peak season. They may not necessarily carry weapons or do the same functions as a regular LEO but could be useful in certain situations. But his “business voice” came out in comparing himself with his opponents on the revenue cap – we need to “do more with less” and “quit whining.”

Government should provide “more bang for our buck,” concluded Bob, and “we need to be able to stand up on our own” without needing as much help from the state and federal governments.

Matt Holloway was not present to give an opening statement, but stressed business growth and more certain punishment of offenders along with having the best equipped and trained LEOs as possible in his answer to the crime question.

He stressed that he was superior to his opponents because he was, “young, motivated, (and) can bring fresh ideas” to the table. Matt also asked us to consider his agricultural background and “business sense.”

Returning to the political fray after a four-year absence for “medical reasons,” Ed Taylor spoke about his efforts to reduce recidivism during the period as a consultant. Apparently his ideas worked, as Taylor claimed he helped lower the recidivism rate by 80% through helping to provide jobs and housing. Yet since he “wanted to be part of the solution” for a county which needs to “survive hard times,” he’s back for another try.

“We need to reestablish community substations,” said Ed, as he also stressed community involvement and stiffer penalties as ideas to combat crime. Describing his opponents as “good people…I don’t think I’m better than any of them,” he based his argument on election on his “fourth degree” (after a bachelor’s and two master’s) – a “PhD in politics.”

In closing, Taylor again spoke of his experience to help bring the nation, state, and community “out of the depression we’re currently experiencing.” He also claimed, “I will always be on the side of the FOP…they deserve LEOPS” (a pension plan for LEOs and the subject of a long-standing collective bargaining dispute.)

Turning to the district races, Sheree Sample-Hughes had a walkover in her District 1 race as the lone candidate to show up or respond. So she stressed her “passion to serve” and lengthy background in public service as a county and state employee before taking her elected position four years ago. Her job, as she saw it, was to “connect people to resources.”

As far as crime, Sheree saw substations as an “information source” but we also needed to stress code enforcement and juvenile services. Continual LEO training and dialogue would be beneficial as well. In a second term she wanted to build a stronger relationship with the judicial system while maintaining the dialogue she had with her district through regular community meetings.

And while she expressed the thought in closing that, “tough times are yet ahead,” thus far she’s “served with passion, vision, and energy” and pointed to graffiti legislation as one of her key achievements on the County Council.

Neither candidate for District 2 could attend the event, and while Mike Calpino wrote that while he couldn’t properly answer a request for specific proposals “on what I know little about,” he did take the time to outline an answer to the comparison to his opponent via a lengthy plan for county expenditures.

On the other hand, Stevie Prettyman begged forgiveness for not being able to attend and similarly punted on the initial question by saying, “I’m not an LE professional.” But she has supported their budget requests in the past and was an advocate of the former DRILL Academy – “I was disappointed that it failed.” And while it’s not an issue the county could directly address, she supports legislation allowing concealed carry.

In stating her case for re-election, Stevie wrote that she’s “not new to politics…I’m independent and do my homework.” With debate on the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning code looming, she believed her experience in dealing with these in the past would serve her district well – as an example she cited the Cove Road controversy.

While District 3’s Gail Bartkovich was present, she got a pass in the event because she’s unopposed. The last Council race in contention was the District 4 race. (I did not see District 5 Council member Joe Holloway present; he’s also unopposed.)

Bob Caldwell is no stranger to legislative politics, as he served a term on Salisbury’s City Council (and ran for mayor in 2009 as well.) It was part of his “history of public service.” Regarding crime, a subject that “all communities wrestle with,” he reminded us that “LE is reactive” and our court commissioners had a role to play in making sure the bad guys aren’t released on their own recognizance.

But Bob’s sense of humor served to lighten the event. Referring to opponent David MacLeod as a “friend of long standing,” he stressed their biggest difference was a difference in philosophy. But he couldn’t resist a zinger or two at his friend, joshing MacLeod about referring to “a checkered past (and) being one step ahead of the law” in his opening statement. (MacLeod was speaking about his time as an addictions counselor.)

He stated his case by returning to his root philosophy of “common sense and fundamental fairness” and asked the voters to consider who they trusted to deal with the unexpected which was sure to come.

David MacLeod worked in a similar vein, cautioning Bob that “I hope you don’t mind waiting another four years” for elected office. In addressing the crime issue, David opined that the “leading cause of all these problems is drugs” and as an addictions counselor, “I reduce demand, (LE) takes care of the supply.”

As for why he’s the better candidate, MacLeod put it simply that, “I sorta know what’s coming over the hill.” He warned us to be careful of preconceived ideas, because, as he later noted in his closing, “this is going to be a little bit bumpy.” His closing argument was that we should “go with experience,” both on the County Council and in writing grant applications.

MacLeod said in his presentation that things were, “interesting to say the least.” Certainly that applied to the other half of the forum where County Executive hopeful Joe Ollinger tangled with his incumbent counterpart Rick Pollitt while Matt Maciarello and W. Seth Mitchell sparred in the main event. That’s the subject of part two upcoming.

What if you had a forum and no one showed up?

This article is an extension of one on my Examiner.com page. Since I was the only person to cover it I really didn’t have to be in any hurry to write about it, did I?

Sometimes events like this really make me wonder about the state of our governed: what if you had a candidate forum and only candidates showed up?

Last Friday was such an event. Each week over the last month or so the Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce has hosted what they call a “lunch and learn” event where a group of four politicians (none of whom are opponents to each other) plead their cases before whatever audience shows up. In this case, it was two other officeseekers, me acting as press, and two members of the general public. Even counting the moderator, politicians outnumbered citizens for this forum.

For me, it was nothing new except for getting to hear from County Executive hopeful John Wayne Baker. I have heard and seen plenty from the two Republican participants (Stevie Prettyman of Council District 2 and the unopposed Joe Holloway of District 5) and had just seen the other guest, County Council candidate Ed Taylor, at the NAACP forum.

At this forum, each gave an opening statement and then answered a series of questions – many of them posed by other elected officials or officeseekers.

For example, John Wayne Baker, who is running for County Executive as a Democrat, was asked by David MacLeod whether his very campaign would be a violation of the Hatch Act (Baker works at the Eastern Correctional Institution.) Baker replied that the warden gave him permission as long as he didn’t campaign on state time.

But in his opening statement Baker suggested that his TEA Party involvement led him to throw his hat into the County Executive ring, stating, “if you sit on your couch and complain, no one hears you.” And while he may not have a lot of executive experience he knows that in budgeting, “column A has to equal column B.”

Prettyman said that “clear vision and clear thinking” are necessary in a term where several items are on the table, such as redistricting, the comprehensive plan, and the charter review. She also touted her 25 years of business experience prior to politics.

Since Holloway is unopposed, he doesn’t have to worry about losing the election. But he still talked about following a “common-sense philosophy” of government over the last four years, using the example of westside land acquisition. He also recalled that “we were warned” about the upcoming recession back in 2007 yet the warnings were unheeded.

I asked Baker how he would see his relationship with County Council if elected – after all, he was potentially sitting with over half the County Council in the room if the election results turned out the correct way.

Baker replied he was a “very upfront person” who was a fiscal conservative and would return to budget basics. “We need a whole different philosophy in government,” said John. But since he already works with a “difficult set of clients,” working with County Council would not be that difficult.

Obviously holding a job with ECI did tie Baker’s hands in one respect – he would not comment on inmate release policies. Joe Ollinger asked that question of him, which may have been a bit unfair since both are running for the same position.

The fourth person scheduled to participate showed up a little late, but Ed Taylor gave as his reason for running again that, “I feel I’m doing the right thing (to) be part of the solution.” His experience of three previous terms would be an asset, theorized Taylor.

There was some discussion on a subsequent question from Joe Ollinger about the tax differential report done recently. None of the Council members present had the study’s cost, but the point was brought up that a differential would be revenue-neutral – however, the tax rates for various jurisdictions would be affected with city rates going down and rural rates increasing.

When asked about the spike in crime by David MacLeod (who was in the audience doing the grilling this week) Stevie Prettyman said that the legislative body had little to do aside from providing the tools for the law enforcement arm of the county to succeed. But the conversation turned to the former drill academy which closed several years ago and how it could have been effective given the right leadership and type of youth sentenced to stay there. “I was sorry to see it go by the wayside,” noted Stevie Prettyman.

But John Wayne Baker saw the problem differently. When asked about using different model communities for crime, Baker was blunt, stating that statistics can be deceiving and in the end “it has to be not worthwhile to be a criminal.” Kids needed a work ethic, he argued, and part of the answer was to “find some common sense in Wicomico County” and attempt to recruit kids away from the gang culture.

Some of that answer could be in parks and recreation, and an observer asked about those programs, particularly the proposed west side park. It was still in the works, said Stevie Prettyman, but Program Open Space money was “frozen.” Baker countered with the question of when we have enough parks (the county has 58, he claimed) and mentioned the successful private ventures of the Fruitland Falcons youth football program and the Crown Sports Center. Prettyman conceded we had to balance core functions with the quality of life.

These were just some of a number of interesting exchanges which most people missed. It’s a shame that candidates put themselves out and speak, but most people will vote based on reputation, party, or thirty second commercial rather than these face-to-face meetings. That’s a missed opportunity to be sure.

Caldwell promises ‘spirited’ District 4 race

An unsuccessful Salisbury mayoral campaign didn’t dissuade GOP stalwart Bob Caldwell from throwing his trademark Superman hat back into the political ring. Caldwell filed just before the deadline to challenge incumbent District 4 Wicomico County Council Democrat David MacLeod in November’s election – since both Caldwell and MacLeod are unopposed in the September 14 primary the race will be more of a marathon than a sprint.

(continued on my Examiner.com page…)

Top of the evening (meetings)

Originally I was going to make this a simple comment to Julie’s post but figured I’d rather have the forum to myself – she can feel free to link to my reaction.

I look at it this way, as a logical manner. The County Council meets twice a month and we have five months remaining until the general election – in other words, ten meetings.

Under the rules in place, two of these meetings (July 6 and October 5) would be held at night, with the other eight being morning meetings.

With the compromise measure, five meetings would be night meetings and five would be daytime. Right now, the difference is three meetings. Certainly that would be a better situation for some, but for me it wouldn’t be the ideal hill to die on. Even Prettyman is quoted as saying she has nothing against night meetings despite the fact she voted against the latest effort, which lost in a 3-3 tie because John Cannon was away tending to family matters.

My point is that we have a ready-made issue for the next election, and the dynamics are interesting.

The loudest opponents of going to a totally evening schedule have been Bill McCain and David MacLeod, both Democrats. We already know McCain isn’t running again, so presumably we can pick up a vote there.

Meanwhile, the Republicans on County Council have generally favored the switch. We all know Stevie Prettyman is running again as is Gail Bartkovich and presumably Joe Holloway. It leaves John Cannon and Sheree Sample-Hughes as swing votes; however, Sheree’s affirmative vote on the last proposal may be in some part because she is the first County Council member to draw an opponent in Dave Goslee, Jr.

Former Councilman Ed Taylor and newcomer Ryan Hohman are in the race for at-large County Council positions (one of which will open up with McCain’s departure) and their stance on the night meetings can be made into an issue as well.

So, I suppose my thought is not to sweat the small stuff but make it into an issue of good government where leadership on the concept can be rewarded this November at the ballot box.

Wicomico County Council approves spending others’ money

In a hardly surprising move, the Wicomico County Council voted to accept the $300,000 per acre price for five acres across to the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, spending $1.5 million in state money to purchase the land and put up a parking lot. The land had been used for years as supplemental parking for the WYCC anyway, but developers threatened to charge the county monthly rent and County Council chose not to call their bluff.

The vote was 4-3 to accept the offer, with Council President Gail Bartkovich and Councilmen Joe Holloway and Stevie Prettyman objecting. Previous to this vote, the Council did approve an amendment to make the purchase contingent on securing the promised Program Open Space money.

During the discussion preceding the vote, John Cannon asked whether the land was needed, but voted for it anyway based on the business interests behind it. Fellow Councilman Sheree Sample-Hughes termed her support as a “quality of life” issue. For his part, Bill McCain added the “stars are just right” for purchasing the land and spoke about the effort to secure the POS dollars – it was a “great deal.” David MacLeod cited a 3:1 ratio of e-mails in support vs. opposition.

On the other hand, “this is not a win-win situation for the county,” said Prettyman. Joe Holloway cited current economic condidtions  as the reason for his opposition. Similarly, Bartkovich noted she could support this in “a better time and place” but for the public “the problem is the price.”

So now we’ve allocated the money to park near a white elephant with several weaknesses – the building is showing its age (built in the late 1970’s after its predecessor burned down in a spectacular fire), its capacity is too small to attract major sporting events and big-name concerts, and due to a legal covenant no alcohol sales are allowed on the site. In a decade or so, once regional economic fortunes turn around, the building will be a relic and the county will have this land – possibly along with another 15 acres adjacent to the newly purchased site at another $250,000 per acre.

Nor is the cost of converting the land from parking to parking factored in – the new purchase means the property needs to be compliant with new state regulations for storm drainage. Overall, the newly renovated site will provide parking for about 500 cars.

Perhaps the lot can be dedicated when it’s finished, and I have the perfect name to adopt for the new additional parking which will be used maybe 50 days a year: how about “Pollitt’s Folly?”