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.

Ten Question Tuesday – February 26, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salisbury money races have surprising leaders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chamber/PACE Council forum attracts interested voters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A week of hearings and forums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race relations the rule at NAACP forum

Wicomico County NAACP president Mary Ashanti called Wednesday night’s forum an opportunity to meet the candidates, and nearly 100 interested citizens saw all eight hopefuls for Salisbury city office meet at First Baptist Church to square off in the first of what promises to be several candidate forums leading to Salisbury’s primary election February 26. Each of the two City Council races will be pared from three hopefuls to two; however, the mayor’s race will not need a primary as just two candidates filed.

The two mayoral hopefuls opened the show, and it was clear from the outset that incumbent Jim Ireton and challenger Joe Albero certainly aren’t the best of friends. In his 90-second introduction, mayor Jim Ireton spoke about his accomplishments, being “excited about the last four years,” and “sharing a positive vision.” Yet three questions in he slammed Albero as one “who sees color,” insinuating that Albero is racist based in part by the content on his blog. That tone, along with a number of loaded audience questions presumably aimed at the challenger, brought an admonishment from Mary Ashanti midway through the mayoral portion of the forum that “we do not permit antagonism.” She would not use the “insulting” questions presented by some audience members.

Yet as the pair sparred over questions mainly dealing with the themes of crime, race relations, and jobs, the two laid out competing visions for the city. Moderator Orville Penn did a good job keeping them (and everyone else) relatively on track.

Ireton pointed out that crime was down, which he called an “amazing feat,” the Wicomico River was getting cleaner, the city enjoyed a $16 million surplus, and tenants had a bill of rights. Indeed, Type 1 crime is statistically lower, and as Jim noted, if the crime rate was up “my opponent would lay that at my feet.” Albero, as predicted, countered with his belief the crime numbers are “being fudged,” bringing a charge from Ireton that Albero was calling the Salisbury Police Department “liars.”

But in order to continue the downward trend, Jim called for a holistic approach to reduce recidivism. On the other hand, Albero thanked Council members Debbie Campbell and Terry Cohen for introducing the “Safe Streets” program to Salisbury but believed SPD morale is down and “we need to be behind them.”

Regarding race relations, Jim proclaimed we “must celebrate” the fact that Salisbury is now 44% minority, but would not commit to diversity in hiring, nor did Albero. Yet both wanted to be job creators.

One huge difference between the Albero and Ireton approaches, though, was the function of downtown Salisbury. Joe envisioned downtown Salisbury with a “Bourbon Street” feel, with entertainment and dining venues – he didn’t believe retail could survive downtown, even if he accomplished his goal of removing the parking meters. He also promised to be 50% mayor and 50% economic development director. Conversely, Ireton saw progress coming from incentives and planning – we need to make waterfront properties useful, and not parking lots, said Jim. “We need to have retail,” he added.

Another sharp difference came on a question about annexation. When Albero asked, “don’t you think we have enough on our hands?” he hastened to add that things are “out of control” in Salisbury and we need to rebuild our infrastructure. But Jim sharply reminded Joe the city can’t just annex land because they have to have the consent of property owners to do so.

In the end, though, it was Jim Ireton who said he was “more excited” about running this time than he was in 2009. “I believe in this city (and) I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” Ireton concluded.

For his part, Joe Albero also believed a brighter, better future for Salisbury is “doable.” “I will be a full-time mayor,” promised Joe.

Compared to the mayoral debate, the three-way tussles between District 1 and District 2 opponents were drama-free. In fact, the three District 1 contenders seemed to find a lot of common ground.

Incumbent Shanie Shields ran on her record of accomplishments in District 1, but was also critical of some missed opportunities over the last four years, in particular not developing the former Linens of the Week property or the old Station 16 firehouse. She also called the removal of the city attorney from the purview of the executive branch “a travesty for the city of Salisbury.”

Meanwhile, challenger (and 2009 candidate) Cynthia Polk focused on a platform of “living wage” jobs and youth development. Polk is the only non-incumbent with previous officeseeking experience; the rest are first-time candidates.

The other challenger, April Jackson, was more outspoken. She desired to “bring out the best in Salisbury,” but was critical of Council disagreements. “We’re sending some God-awful vibes,” she said, adding that they need to “resolve their anger issues.” She also panned the juvenile justice system for the leniency in sentencing she thought was contributing to Salisbury’s crime problem, but stressed as well the aspect of rehabilitation.

In the District 2 race, incumbent Debbie Campbell seemed to be a little defensive about having to say no all the time. Debbie’s opponents didn’t question her record, but during her remarks she stated the claim that 70 out of 80 ordinances and 190 of 200 resolutions had passed. The work can be hard to understand, Campbell added, but in her tenure she had prevented a tax increase, pushed the redevelopment of the River’s Edge project – a development she promised would be “amazing” – and saved Salisbury citizens $1 million.

Campbell, though, disagreed with portions of the Ireton plan for downtown, telling the audience subsidies and giving away parking lots are not solutions.

Downtowns are Jake Day’s specialty, and many of this challenger’s remarks came back to how Salisbury could improve its inner core. Jake was running, though, because he was “tired of old politics standing in the way of progress,” contending that the list of Council issues he disagreed with was “pretty long.” On the other hand, he got to see a number of other success stories through his work and wanted to bring that experience here.

The other challenger, Jack Heath, promoted his three-pronged vision for Salisbury: jobs, education, and recreation in a safe city, a vibrant, inviting downtown, and a city government which adopts the best ideas from its citizen. Having established that as his comfort zone, Heath stuck to those tenets throughout the conversation. It seemed to suit him, for as he noted in closing, “I’ve been known to be a negotiator.”

Of the two challengers, Day was the more aggressive and quicker on his feet. After Debbie Campbell had answered a previous question on diversity by pointing out local committees and commissions were a training ground for future policymakers, Jake closed by citing his work on various local boards and announcing, “I’m done training – I’m ready to fight.”

Obviously this forum focused a lot on issues affecting minority citizens, but in looking at what was said and the individual races I drew a couple conclusions.

In both Council races, one challenger seemed more at ease than the other. It was obvious that April Jackson is much more comfortable in this setting than Cynthia Polk, who probably campaigns best door-to-door. Similarly, Jake Day was more outspoken and aggressive in courting voters than Jack Heath; it follows that Day was the first to announce his intention and already has yard signs out. Heath has some catching up to do or he’ll be the odd man out.

It also seems to me that this mayoral race will be one of the dirtiest, slimiest campaigns in city history. Things will be said that, in ten years, may make the city a laughingstock – I just feel it in my bones. Hopefully both of these men will prove me wrong, but my reading of the two personalities tells me otherwise.