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?

August 2, 2010 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2010, Delmarva items, Personal stuff, Politics, Wicomico County Examiner · Comments Off on 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.

Cannon fires up campaign for General Assembly seat

June 29, 2010 · Posted in Wicomico County Examiner · Comments Off on Cannon fires up campaign for General Assembly seat 

According to a published report, Wicomico County at-large councilman John Cannon will enter the race for Delegate for District 38A, becoming the second Republican to seek the seat held by the late Delegate Page Elmore. He’ll face Crisfield attorney John Phoebus for the GOP primary nod. With just a few days to go before the filing deadline only one Democrat, Somerset County Commission President Mike McCready, has filed for his party’s nomination.

Cannon’s entry into the House of Delegates race also means that neither at-large County Council member will return for another term, as Democrat Bill McCain announced previously he would not run again. It also leaves the GOP without a candidate to fill either of the two at-large slots on the ballot as Ryan Hohman announced his withdrawal from the race last month. Two Democrats, former councilman Ed Taylor and political activist Mike Brewington, are already set for the ballot.

(continued on my Examiner.com page…but come back for the enhanced article.)

As I noted in my Facebook posting of the original article, I’m not sure I agree with the move in a tactical sense.

First of all, love him or hate him, there wasn’t much doubt that John Cannon would’ve kept his County Council seat had he ran again. In fact, a best-case scenario among those in the running may have maintained or enhanced the GOP’s 4-3 advantage but with even more fiscal hawks placed on County Council – for example, even though he’s a Democrat, Mike Brewington would likely be much more fiscally conservative than Bill McCain.

Yet now the possibility exists of a Democratic takeover of County Council, with the spendthrift likes of Ed Taylor being returned to County Council. Combine that with another term of Rick Pollitt and you better hold on to your wallets.

On the flip side, it’s obvious the Democrats would like to get the District 38A seat to make up for a possible loss in neighboring District 38B. They have a relatively strong Somerset-based candidate in Mike McCready and it’s my belief that a Somerset-based Republican is the better choice to counter McCready’s effect. As I pointed out in the Examiner piece, while Wicomico Republicans made up a majority of the GOP vote, Somerset voters have a majority in the district. And if you think the Republican voter registration numbers are bad here, the situation for the GOP is much worse in Somerset County. (It’s another classic case of the “Daddy was a Democrat so I’m one” syndrome common on the Eastern Shore.)

I don’t mind the contested primary, but I think in a strategical sense things would have been better if Cannon had decided to stay put. I think Page tried to put the bravest face possible on his condition hoping that it would work out best for the party, but word spreads just as quickly here as anywhere else and I think Democrats smelled an opportunity this time around.

Frankly, I was less than pleased with Page Elmore’s voting record on a number of key issues but it’s not very likely a Democrat will do any better. Hopefully Cannon’s move won’t end up losing Republicans a much-needed seat in Annapolis.

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.

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