A tale of two events

It’s been awhile since I’ve given you a pictorial post and added the captions, so I thought it was time.

It may be an unfair comparison – the reboot of a longtime staple of Salisbury cultural diversions against an established old favorite – but I have to wonder just went wrong with the Downtown Salisbury Festival, which seems to me somewhat of a failure in its new time slot of early June.

I will say, however, that weather probably played some role: while I was taking these photos at the Downtown Salisbury Festival, Ocean City was getting a historic deluge of rain. Salisbury was hit by the next line of storms a couple hours later. Yet I don’t think it was all about the weather.

Looking eastward along Main Street to the narrow row of rides that spanned a block.

I turned around and looked westward down the next block. Still not much traffic.

It was a little better down the block. Since it’s political season, it should be noted the tent on the left (with the orange-clad folks) belonged to the Clerk of Courts campaign of Bo McAllister.

But as you worked westward on Main Street, the crowd thinned out. On the left is the luckless campaign of Democrat Michael Brown, a Salisbury resident running for the right to challenge incumbent Andy Harris.

This was from the west end of the art area. It’s hard to see them, but the local Democrats were camped out in front of the Chamber of Commerce building on the right, without a tent.

In future years, it’s likely the DSF will be centered along the riverfront and the amphitheater under construction. But construction wasn’t done for this edition.

Another photo along a deserted riverfront.

Some of the food court was along the river side.

The food court had plenty of choices, but didn’t have much business.

At least there wasn’t a line for the petting zoo.

I’ll grant that I wasn’t there for the DSF on Friday night and the crowd may have been better. But I think in the future they’ll either need to condense the event a little bit or perhaps institute a shuttle to ferry people from stop to stop – maybe 3 or 4 stops. I didn’t think late April was a really bad time to have it, either. On the first weekend in June people are thinking about graduations or the beach.

Conversely, the weather was picture-perfect Friday night for Third Friday and people responded.

I walked onto the Plaza and what did I see? Lots of people!

The event was also hot and cold running politicians. The local GOP was set up across from District 4 County Council candidate Suzanah Cain.

On the other side of the spectrum, we had the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus a couple spots in front of County Executive challenger Jack Heath’s spot. It’s also noteworthy that Suzanah Cain’s opponent Josh Hastings was walking about with his sign.

My friend Sarah Meyers has a cool job: she’s the curator of Poplar Hill Mansion. She was out at 3F promoting their festival next Saturday, the 23rd.

This month’s theme may have helped with the promotion: people were encouraged to bring their dogs. They could have partaken in this course.

Even at 7:30 there was still a serious crowd out there.

This month’s band was one of the better ones I’ve seen.

Muskrat Lightning was the band, making a great soundtrack for the event.

It took several years for Third Friday to find its stride, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so hard on the Downtown Salisbury Festival. But I remember when they tried to use most of Main Street and being so spread out meant something was shortchanged. It’s become successful since they focused on the Plaza and the Division Street side of the courthouse.

So if the DSF wants to take advantage of the riverfront, maybe they need to place the exhibitors where the food court was and use one of the side streets as a food court. There was a visual effect missing on this layout – if you were at the rides or checking out art vendors you wouldn’t be aware of the food court or stage, which made the event seem small. It needs to be tied together better, and maybe having the amphitheater done will help in that regard.

I guess we will find out next year for the DSF, as well as the First Saturday and Fridays at Five events – the latter two on hiatus for this year as construction occurs at both sites. Maybe we will get better weather, too.

The sidebar sidestory

January 25, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Bloggers and blogging, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on The sidebar sidestory 

While I haven’t been hanging around here as much as I used to with this book I’m writing and all, a service I’ve always provided here is being a one-stop shop to link to political candidates in season. And seeing that the season is fast-approaching – the filing deadline is barely a month away – I suppose it’s time to build out the 2018 version of my widget.

One change I think I’m going to make from previous years is to not just link their websites, but their social media as well. It seems now that most of the action on the political position front comes from those sites because they are interactive by nature. So I’ll figure out a way to integrate them into the links.

In looking at some of the local races, the most statewide attention seems to be on the State Senate race between incumbent Jim Mathias and current Delegate Mary Beth Carozza, who’s trying to move up after just one term in the House. If that seems opportunistic, bear in mind that Mathias also moved up after one term and about six months of change (he was appointed Delegate after the incumbent died in office.) However, at the time Mathias ran for an open seat thanks to the retirement of longtime GOP State Senator Lowell Stoltzfus. And while Mathias is best known for being the popular mayor of Ocean City, it’s also the area Carozza represents in the House. Her task will be to catch up name recognition in Somerset County, although it’s likely she’ll get the backing from Stoltzfus and current Delegate Charles Otto to help her along there.

With Carozza moving up, the opening for Delegate in District 38C is shaping up to be an interesting GOP primary. (With the political composition of the district, frankly that is the race.) Four contenders are in the running so far, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see one or two more crowd the ballot. While Ed Tinus, a perennial candidate, moved down from the Senate race when Carozza made it official, the others waited to jump in and made it a race. Wayne Hartman is an Ocean City Council member trying to advance, while Joe Schanno is making a second run eight years after his first in what was then a two-Delegate district. (He finished fourth of the four in the GOP primary.)

There’s not nearly as much suspense in the other local districts. The only other one really worth mentioning at this point is District 37B, where a third business person has thrown his hat into the ring in a district already boasting two in Chris Adams and Johnny Mautz. Keith Graffius is running in large part because Dorchester County doesn’t have a native Delegate – an unfortunate reality in that part of the Eastern Shore where two three-person districts span seven of the nine counties of the Eastern Shore – so someone will be left holding the bag and after the last election Dorchester County replaced Caroline County as the state’s red-headed stepchild. (The District 37 Senator, Addie Eckardt, lives in Dorchester County so they are not shut out entirely.)

Here in Wicomico County, the key races are the County Executive race, which thus far pits incumbent Bob Culver against independent Jack Heath, who has to petition his way onto the ballot, and the new school board elections that will fire up for the first time in 2018. So far only three incumbents on County Council have filed (Democrat Ernie Davis and Republicans Larry Dodd and Joe Holloway) and one challenger had popped up for an open seat – Josh Hastings makes his second try after moving from District 3 to District 4.

Something I’ve found interesting is how many people have already filed for Central Committee races. In the three times I ran, I was not one who waited around – I filed several weeks before the deadline and was normally among the first to do so. (The only election I was a dawdler was my first, but I was still 5th of 7 to file. The other two I was 4th of 13.) These candidates are notorious for waiting until the last minute, but this year there are already enough Central Committee hopefuls on the male side of the Democrat Party and they’re only one short among females. On the GOP side we already have five of nine so they may exceed their previous high-water marks of thirteen in the last two elections. I suspect the same may be true for school board as well. And because of school board, for the first time every voter in Wicomico County may have a ballot to vote on come June since school board is a non-partisan race.

So anyway I will have some work to do over the coming days. Fortunately I have an old widget extant so it’s not much of a chore to do.

In the giving spirit

December 23, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on In the giving spirit 

One nice thing about Salisbury elections is that money unspent in the campaigns is not carried over to the next election but is required to either be returned to contributors or given to another entity, normally a charity. (There are exceptions, though – stick with me, it’s called foreshadowing.) With the release of the final financial statements earlier this week, I was curious to see where all the money went.

I’ll begin with the City Council races and District 1, where defeated incumbent Shanie Shields distributed $959.48 to a number of organizations around her neighborhood. $500 went to the Chipman Foundation while smaller amounts were received by the Wesley Temple, Operation We Care, and two local elementary schools, West Salisbury and Pemberton. Meanwhile, the winner April Jackson donated her modest leftover sum of $26.82 to the Salisbury Advisory Council while Sarah Halcott closed out her books by donating $96.13 to the Art Institute and Gallery. That made sense given Halcott’s line of business as an artisan.

There wasn’t a lot of money left in District 2, as the only candidate to file a final statement was victor Muir Boda. Boda gave $39.61 to Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services.

District 3 winner Jack Heath had much more unspent, as he distributed $1,495.80 among four recipients: Lower Shore Enterprises, Operation We Care, the Salisbury Zoo, and the Joseph House. Amounts ranged from $325 to $500 for each. Neither of the other candidates had leftover funds at the end of the campaign.

Lots of money flowed into District 4, but not all of it was spent campaigning. Jim Ireton split the $399.96 remaining balance equally between the Wicomico High softball team, Tri-Community Mediation, and the Wicomico Public Library Homework Help Center. On the other hand, Roger Mazzullo had no money remaining.

Finally among the Council members, Laura Mitchell did not need to file a report. She was the lone unopposed Council candidate, as was Mayor Jake Day for his post. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

First of all, Day was two days late in filing his report because he has a discrepancy between his records and accounts of $764.85. I make no accusations as to funny business; most likely someone put a number in the wrong column or the bank messed up. There are any number of logical reasons for the error.

More importantly, though, Day had over $10,000 to distribute – getting contributions when running unopposed will tend to do that – and he chose to make two disbursements. Instead of charitable contributions, though, as of this week we have two brand new state political entities:

  • Jake Day for Maryland had an initial contribution of $6,000. Day serves as the chairman and his campaign treasurer Jordan Gilmore retains that role for the new entity.
  • The New Day for Maryland PAC got the remaining $4,075.89, with Day’s campaign manager Alison Pulcher serving as chair and Gilmore as treasurer.

Note that the PAC is not to be confused with the New Day MD PAC that former gubernatorial candidate Charles Lollar began in 2009. Lollar’s PAC, as of its 2015 report filed in January, has less than $250 to its name.

Naturally these new campaign finance entities make me wonder if Day is going to serve a full term unhindered by political aspirations or perhaps challenge Bob Culver in 2018. Heck, even Jim Ireton – who has strongly hinted about a Congressional run – didn’t move his city money to create a federal account. (Ireton’s had a state account for a few years, with just over $1,000 in it at last report back in January.) But the campaign entity can also serve as a warchest to stave off challengers in the next city election, too.

In the meantime, we should be proud that much of the leftover campaign cash will be doing good in the community. With the elections now set for November, the contributions came as a nice Christmas gift to several local entities. It will have to tide them over through 2019, though.

Update: Day responds:

The start of something good?

November 16, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on The start of something good? 

Tonight the City of Salisbury embarked on a new chapter in its government as its City Council changed hands. Ironically, the person running the meeting at the beginning would shortly become the city’s mayor – Jake Day wielded the gavel for the last time, departing slightly from the agenda to ask for a moment of silence for the people of Paris.

But the first to make comments was outgoing mayor Jim Ireton, who credited the “unsung heroes” who voted for him twice as mayor but “await(s) the incredible things we’ll do together” during the next four years. Ireton also noted later that changing just one person on council can make a profound difference in the body.

Jack Heath, who won election to a full term, noted he “came to know the power of the city and the goodness of its workers.” The man he defeated, Tim Spies, said the last 4 1/2 years were “good for me” and believed the city had a terrific future, with high expectations. He encouraged more people to make a Monday night of getting to Council meetings, adding afterward it was half-price burger night at the Irish Penny to cap off the evening. Public service for him was “fulfilling” with no end to opportunities, Spies said later.

Outgoing Mayor Ireton noted on Spies, “We would be well to have 33,000 Tim Spieses in the city.”

The other Council member leaving, Shanie Shields, vowed “I’m not going anywhere.” Not only would she be there for her successors, she planned on using her newfound time to make County Council meetings. In speaking of Shields, Ireton noted that the Salisbury he grew up in was a “place of 1,000 moms” and Shields was one of them. Shields, he added, reminded him never to forget our best work is ahead of us.

Noting the overflow crowd in the garage of Station 16, Laura Mitchell also hoped they would stay involved. “I would love to see more of this.” Day wrapped up that portion of the evening to noting Council had “exceeded my expectations.”

Ireton and Day, with help from Delegates Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, and Sherrie Sample-Hughes, and Senator Jim Mathias, presented certificates to Shields and Spies. Anderton also revealed to the audience that Governor Larry Hogan had come through his cancer treatment successfully and was deemed cancer-free, which brought rousing applause from the gathering.

Once those who were leaving were honored, it was time to turn the page and swear in the new members. The Council went first, then Jake Day, with his wife and daughter by his side.

Our featured speaker was Comptroller Peter Franchot, who let us know “I’m a huge fan of Jake Day.”

In his relatively brief remarks, he praised Salisbury as “a city on the rise” with “fresh talent (and) new energy.” We were crucial to the state’s economic fabric, concluded Franchot.

The Council did have a little work to do, though: electing officers. In what turned out to be uncontested votes by acclamation, Jim Ireton nominated Jack Heath to be Council president and Muir Boda nominated Laura Mitchell to its vice-president.

Once again, we heard remarks from the new Mayor and Council. Day made a laundry list of promises, concluding with a vow “we will give you a Salisbury we can be proud of.”

It was noted that Muir Boda had won after multiple tries for office, to which he responded, “I’m finally here.” Even though it was a long process for Boda, he was nowhere near as emotional as April Jackson, who choked up when she said, “I wish my dad could be here.” A well-known community leader, Billy Gene Jackson died earlier this year. Once she regained her composure, she told the crowd, “I’m ready to go. Not to go home, but to get to work!”

As the new Council President, Jack Heath said mutual respect and inclusion was “his pledge.” Once he spoke, he rapped the gavel and declared the meeting to be adjourned.

Because it comes on board at this point in the year, the Council will get to ease into its duties a little bit – the city’s budget isn’t due for a few months. But we will have crime and economic development to deal with, and that’s a pretty full plate as well.

I think they’ll do just fine. To wrap up, here’s a guy I’m proud to call friend, Muir Boda, and his wife Briggit.

It took six years, but I’m pleased my support finally helped make him a winner. My advice to him? Get used to having your picture taken.

To borrow a phrase from Delegate Carl,Anderton, let’s get to work!

A new Day for Salisbury, and a Council to match

November 3, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on A new Day for Salisbury, and a Council to match 

We knew awhile back that Jake Day would Salisbury’s next mayor several months ago when the filing deadline came and went with him as the only candidate in the field. The only question was whether he would get a City Council friendly to his interests, and the answer is somewhat mixed.

With the redistricting set up as it was, it was possible somewhere between one and three incumbents would be elected, as well as the possibility the outgoing mayor would hang around as a Council member. When the smoke cleared tonight, we got the old mayor and two incumbents – one of them, though, is incumbent only a few months as he was appointed to a vacancy last year.

The previous (outgoing) edition of City Council was Day as president, Laura Mitchell as vice-president, and Jack Heath, Shanie Shields, and Tim Spies. We know Day advanced to mayor, while Mitchell was unopposed for her District 5 seat – the only two getting a free pass.

Redistricting lumped Heath and Spies into the same District 3, with Heath getting the victory tonight. Meanwhile, District 1 incumbent Shanie Shields lost her rematch from 2013 with April Jackson, who got 48% of a three-way vote.

In District 4, Jim Ireton prevailed by 53 votes over newcomer Roger Mazzullo, but Muir Boda blew out the field in District 2 – he only got 80 votes but everyone else combined for just 57. Yes, turnout was terrible – initial totals indicate just 1,414 voters bothered to show out of 13,455 registered. Of course, the lack of a mayor’s race – or any race in District 5, which is the largest district in terms of voters – did the most to dampen turnout on what was otherwise a gorgeous day to go to the polls.

With the exception of District 4 I think the Council will be an improvement. Interestingly enough, the newly elected Councilman announced on WBOC-TV he’s already considering another race, perhaps seeking the Democratic nomination for Congress next year. Honestly, for his sake I hope Jim Ireton is kidding because I think the rest of Council is willing to be the work horses rather than the show horse.

A couple other things about the changeover – the composition of the body gets a shade younger because Boda’s relative youth outweighs the age increase between Day and Ireton, who is a dozen years older, and Jackson being a few years younger than Shields. Boda also marks the first elected Republican since Louise Smith served from 2007-11.

So if there’s anything I foresee among City Council, I suspect there will be some tension between former mayor Ireton and new mayor Day. I’m sure there is precedent for former Salisbury mayors returning to government; however, my limited experience with the city means Day is only the third mayor I’ve lived under in 11 years. Previous mayor Barrie Parsons Tilghman has largely avoided the spotlight since she left office in 2009. Whether it’s Ireton’s atrocious rent control idea, his high-strung personality, or his jihad against those who invest in the city as landlords, Jim may be the sand in the gears when it comes to moving Salisbury forward.

With the new rules, the city is now set until 2019 – no more alternating elections in the spring of odd-numbered years. It will make 2017 rather quiet around these parts until the latter half when state campaigns get going.

On a personal note, those who advertised with me went 1-for-2, and while Muir Boda lapped the field I would say getting 44% as a novice candidate against an incumbent mayor with built-in name recognition as Roger Mazzullo did counts as a moral victory. So if you want to increase your market share, you may consider giving this website a try.

Campaign finance, Salisbury style

October 28, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Politics · Comments Off on Campaign finance, Salisbury style 

With just a week to go before the election, we finally learned who was giving and receiving the most money of the dozen-plus candidates running for office in the city of Salisbury. (Thanks to the Salisbury Independent for sharing the city’s information in their summary.)

After reading through the various reports, one thing is clear: Jake Day is great at raising money. Despite the fact we learned weeks ago he would be unopposed, contributors have still dropped nearly $25,000 in his campaign coffers. (As I recall, there are options to wind down a campaign account once the cycle is through, so Day may have the opportunity to select from a number of willing groups and share the wealth.)

Last time around in the former District 1, Shanie Shields outraised and outspent her two opponents, one of which was the current office seeker April Jackson. The same is holding true this time, as Shields holds a roughly 3-to-1 fundraising advantage over her two opponents combined. Newcomer Sarah Halcott is the third person in the race.

The advantage is even more pronounced in District 2, with Muir Boda miles ahead of his three opponents. Before I go on, I will disclose that I am a recipient of advertising money from Boda, but two things jumped out at me from his opposition.

First, Keyvan Aarabi only lists $200 in contributions but nearly $900 in spending, so the question is whether they failed to report candidate loans. (Perhaps they made that oversight.) But that’s better than not reporting at all, which Marvin Ames failed to do. The third aspirant, Justin Gregoli, reported his activity did not meet the threshold for itemizing.

In District 3, where two incumbents are battling it out, Jack Heath has raised money while Tim Spies is funding his own efforts, vowing to return contributions. Compared to Heath, newcomer Kevin Lindsay barely registers, having raised just $370 for his bid.

After I disclose that District 4’s Roger Mazzullo is also an advertiser, let me point out that he is by far the most successful political newcomer when it comes to fundraising, raising $3,450 so far compared to outgoing Mayor Jim Ireton’s $870. (In an effort to portray himself as the little guy, Ireton is limiting contributions to $20 – of course, he has the advantage of name recognition that Mazzullo has to spend money to build.)

Finally, since Laura Mitchell is unopposed in District 5 she filed the report stating she had raised and spent less than $600. Given that District 5 voters have no choices on the ballot I would be surprised if more than 100 show up. Turnout in city elections is already abysmal, so 200 to 250 votes in any district may be plenty.

(A total of 2,775 voters participated in the 2013 election, which was citywide and had all contested races. With the lack of a mayor’s race and no contest in one district, I think we’ll be hard-pressed to see 2,000 votes total. Hope they surprise me.)

As we enter the home stretch, we will see what the candidates do to maximize their positions. If money equals votes, City Council could be very receptive to the pro-business side of Jake Day’s agenda.

An anticlimactic November

August 19, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on An anticlimactic November 

One reason the Salisbury city elections were changed beginning this year was the abysmal turnout they usually had in the spring. Sadly, turnout will likely be lower still thanks to the lack of a mayor’s race. The deadline came and went today and Jake Day is the only candidate who filed for mayor.

Voters in District 5, on the city’s far east side, will have even less reason to show up because incumbent Council member Laura Mitchell was the only one bothering to run in her district.

On the other hand, there are old-fashioned shootouts in the other four Council districts. Two incumbents lumped together in District 3 will tangle as both Tim Spies, who won in his second try in 2011, and 2014 appointee Jack Heath will both battle for that seat along with Kevin Lindsay, who was one of 11 unsuccessful applicants to succeed Terry Cohen when she resigned last year – it was the seat Heath won appointment to. It’s a district that takes in the Camden neighborhood by Salisbury University and hops across the Wicomico River to take in areas along Pemberton Drive.

There are two others who tried for the Cohen chair that are running for election this year: Sarah Halcott in District 1 and Muir Boda in District 2. Halcott faces two foes who are familiar with each other: incumbent Shanie Shields and 2013 opponent April Jackson in this inner-city and near west side district. Boda, who is in a district with no incumbent, has three fellow challengers in Keyvan Aarabi, Marvin Ames, and Justin Gregoli. Ames ran for the District 1 County Council seat last year but lost in the Democratic primary. District 2 covers the close-in neighborhoods on the north and east sides of Salisbury (and is my home district.)

Instead of running again for mayor, Jim Ireton opted to run for City Council in District 4. He will face two others vying for the seat: Kenneth Vickers III and Roger Mazzullo. That district is perhaps the largest in geography as it takes in most of the commercial center along the northern fringes of town before veering toward downtown Salisbury.

And downtown will have a friend in Day, who has to be pinching himself and wondering how he was fortunate enough not to have an opponent in his run for mayor. It’s very possible, though, that he may just switch roles with Ireton as he would likely seek to be Council president after being put on the Council as Day did after the 2013 election. (Ireton has served on City Council before, though. He was on it for about a year before leaving – as the story goes it was to take a job out of town.)

With no incumbent in District 2, that will be an interesting race as the victor may be the only newcomer to city government. Boda has run for City Council twice before, losing to incumbent Debbie Campbell in 2009 and finishing fourth behind Mitchell, Cohen, and Spies in 2011.

Out of the 16 total candidates, there are six incumbents (one by appointment), four who have sought election at least once before and lost (including the appointee), four who tried for appointment (one apiece being also in the previous two categories), and five who are apparently political neophytes. Some have steeper learning curves than others.

Interestingly to me, the lack of a primary election means financial disclosure statements will not be due until a week before the election – so no one will know just how the money supply is for candidates until the last minute. (Had the primary remained in place, it would have been held in early September for voters in all but District 5 as the three or four candidates otherwise would have been whittled down to two in each race.) One can ask the legitimate question of who, if anyone, Jake Day will ask his donors to give to now that he is in the clear. (They can also ask about Laura Mitchell.) As two incumbents who got a free ride, their backing could make a difference.

So the first hurdle is crossed, eleven weeks before we actually vote. For a candidate, 77 days can seem like an eternity until they get to mid-October and wonder how they will get through the next few weeks with all they need to do. I look forward to hearing some new and good ideas for the city of Salisbury from this group.

A tone-deaf city government

November 25, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2015 - Salisbury, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on A tone-deaf city government 

It took several months longer than anticipated – and we don’t yet know exactly what the toll will be – but last night 80 percent of Salisbury City Council gave 100 percent of local property owners another tax to pay by approving a stormwater utility on a 4-0 vote, with newly-appointed Jack Heath being absent.

Council President Jake Day “doesn’t expect” the fee to be more than $20 a year for homeowners, and expects to raise $1.25 million annually from the “rain tax” – and yes, I think the moniker is appropriate given the business fee will be determined by the amount of runoff they produce. According to the latest Census data, though, there are 13,401 housing units in Salisbury so my public school math tells me that businesses are going to pay almost 80% of the total, to the tune of almost $1 million annually.

Interestingly enough, I was quoted in the Daily Times story from last Thursday from a post I wrote in February when the idea came up, and I think the point is still valid: we don’t know what impact there will be from this tax hike on the overall health of the Chesapeake Bay. It seems to me that the timing isn’t very good on this one, particularly as the state and county are working to make these entities more business-friendly and new taxes tend to work in the opposite direction.

I was curious about something, so I took a look at the city’s latest budget that was adopted in May. In it, Mayor Jim Ireton points out that “(t)his budget shows levels of monetary surplus at incredibly healthy levels for both the City’s General Fund and the City’s Water and Sewer Utility.” But it also is using some of the proceeds from the wastewater treatment plant settlement on sewer infrastructure, so why do they need this new tax now? Granted, it’s also stated in the budget that ratepayers get a 2.5% break on water and sewer rates this year, but the extra $20 fee will likely eat that savings up and then some.

The budget also makes the case that the $100 a month, give or take, that a residential property owner pays in property taxes provides a cornucopia of services, a palette which includes stormwater management. So we’re already paying for the service with our property taxes, but instead of adding the penny or two that would cover the additional services the city wants to create a new special fund. Currently the Water and Sewer Fund comprises roughly 1/3 of a city budget which runs about $50 million, with property taxes chipping in about $22 million toward the General Fund. With the city of Salisbury increasing the tax rate regularly, it’s doubtful we’ll see a corresponding decrease in property taxes to offset the new fee.

And while I’m not an expert on the city charter by any means, my question is why can’t the purview of the Water and Sewer Utility (which has a large surplus) be simply expanded to stormwater? Generally infrastructure improvements to the stormwater system involve changes to the remaining utilities as well, so the same work may well come out of two (or three) different funds given the city’s idea. It may be more efficient and less taxing on the city’s residents to amend the charter to add stormwater to the existing water and sewer utility.

So let’s review: the fee would cover something which is already supposed to be paid for, in an amount we haven’t quite determined yet, to achieve projects for which we don’t know the scope but are supposed to address a problem Salisbury contributes little to and is only compelled to deal with because the state refuses to stick up for itself and tell the EPA and Chesapeake Bay Foundation to go pound sand. What could go wrong?

Just remember all this come Election Day next year.

Update 11/26: I actually stumbled upon this as I was researching some items for my next post today, but it’s worth pointing out that Salisbury has justified its adoption of a stormwater utility by saying the town of Berlin has one in place.

The same group, called the Environmental Finance Center – which is part of the University of Maryland but serves as a regional hub for an existing EPA program – did studies to justify the need for Berlin (2012) and Salisbury (2013). The results were pretty much the same, although the suggested fee was higher in Berlin than it was in Salisbury, where they recommended a $40 annual fee for homeowners. Notably, the Salisbury report also recommends fee increases after a period of years – see the chart on page 15. So the problem won’t ever be solved and the program will run an annual surplus that likely won’t be rebated to taxpayers. Moreover, unlike a property tax from which religious-based entities have traditionally been exempt, they have to pay the fee as well.

Also, the fingerprints of the notoriously Radical Green folks of the Town Creek Foundation are on these reports. It’s a group which believes:

We think that true sustainability and resilience – in an increasingly unstable, crisis-prone world – will depend on fundamental transformations of the systems (including the value systems) by which everyday life is organized. These include the systems by which we make and consume energy, food, and materials, and the systems by which we make and enforce social decisions.

We’ve already seen the results of a national “fundamental transformation” over the last six years, and many millions would like to transform back to where we were. But a tone-deaf government just wants to take more out of our pockets rather than prioritize existing resources.

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.

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 on Salisbury elections: incumbents advance 

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.

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.

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