Critical of the process?

Don’t look now, but the critics are out again.

I was looking through social media and my friend Jackie Wellfonder linked to this Daily Times article from writer Phil Davis. While he correctly notes that the Wicomico County Republican Party appointed two new members to the board, there was less emphasis on the third member added back to the body as Democrat Donald Fitzgerald was reappointed. The GOP didn’t have that option because one of the three vacant seats was that of Larry Dodd, who was elected to County Council and resigned his post mid-term, another was ceded by the Democrats upon the election of Larry Hogan, and the third turned out to be a reappointment of Fitzgerald.

But some forgot that elections do matter. “Tea Party Governor appoints Tea Party person that was hand picked by Tea Party County Executive. I think that about sums it up,” said local Democratic activist Chuck Cook.

“Democrats don’t appoint Tea Party people who want to destroy education,” he added later.

Naturally I had to respond:

You say TEA Party like it’s a bad thing. The Central Committee was looking for people who would bring accountability and discipline to the board.

I suppose not giving the teachers everything they want and then some is considered to be hating kids. How about “money follows the child” and call it a day?

As I have noted on numerous occasions, though, my preference would be for actual voters to determine who sits on the school board. That was an angle another observer had when she learned who was appointed:

I would like to thank our local Republicans for convincing me that maybe an elected School Board is the way to go. The latest appointment has me thinking they obviously aren’t up to the task.

We’ll take ’em by hook or by crook.

Since Joe Ollinger is a known quantity who ran for County Executive in 2010, I’m going out on a limb and guessing the objections center around John Palmer, who has been a longtime advocate for fiscal accountability in the county.

But seriously, if you consider the problem to be the people who want to make the Wicomico County Board of Education become leaner and more accountable for the $190 million of our tax dollars (federal, state, and local) that they will spend in FY 2016 – well, I’m glad we send our child to a Christian school. Too bad I still have to pay some of the other freight, though.

And I have some news for the critics: guess who gets to make the next two appointments? Why, it’s the Wicomico County Republican Party you know and love!

Now. they will have the option of re-appointing the two Republicans already on the board (Carolyn Elmore and Kim Hudson) but something tells me a lot of the sentiment toward granting them another term will come from seeing just how well they work and play with the two new Republicans on the WCBOE. Remember, there’s nothing that says that once appointed a member is automatically re-appointed, and it bears noting that the local Republicans played a much smaller role in the process when Elmore and Hudson were appointed – in fact, I seem to recall that the local Democrats wanted the Republican aspirants to interview with them because they controlled the process at the time. Imagine the caterwauling the GOP would have received in the local media if we played that card with the Democrats’ seat, with Chuck Cook screaming the loudest.

I don’t know if either Elmore or Hudson went to speak with the Democrats, but the WCRCC did not interview Kim Hudson. She submitted her name separately when the vacancy she filled came up – Hudson is finishing an unexpired term brought about by the 2012 resignation of Michelle Wright.

(This is the great thing about being the WCRCC secretary – I have the minutes of the meetings. We interviewed six great people for the Wright opening and Hudson was not one of them.)

So there will be some interesting times over the next year insofar as the Wicomico County Board of Education goes. I am very sure the most recent appointees will be the subject of some testimony whenever the county gets around to scheduling its hearings regarding an elected school board, which was on their agenda Tuesday. Just remember: the ones who are complaining about the “TEA Party” choices are among those who thwarted the idea of an elected school board for the better part of a decade.

A look ahead: 2014 in Wicomico County

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WCRC meeting – February 2013

My coverage this month is going to depart from the norm because our guest speaker was someone of statewide importance. And just as we rearranged our agenda to allow him to speak after the welcoming and introductory remarks from club President Larry Dodd, I’m going to submit the highlights of what Blaine Young had to say to an expanded audience through Watchdog Wire later this week. It’s not often that we can make news in this corner of the state so I want to take advantage.

Still, we had a lot go on in this month’s meeting from more regular participants, including some surprising changes in club leadership occurring next month. Once Blaine finished with his remarks, passed out some literature and cards, and embarked on his return to Frederick, I went through the January minutes and we received the Treasurer’s Report from Deb Okerblom, who volunteered for the task in Tom Hughes’s absence.

Dave Parker gave the Central Committee report, noting that the House gun bill (HB294) will have its hearing this Friday. He told us to ignore the pro-gun control rally in Lawyer’s Mall (which, in my opinion, will get 1/5 the participation as the pro-Second Amendment rally held earlier this month but five times the media coverage) and sign up to testify – “this is serious stuff,” he warned. “Without the Second Amendment, we have no other rights.”

Other egregious bills being heard this week were ones on Election Day voter registration – “talk about voter fraud,” Parker opined.

In other news, Dave talked up the Dorchester County Lincoln Day Dinner this Saturday and hinted that our version may or may not occur March 23 because we have the opportunity to secure a prime speaker. “You better get your tickets fast” if this speaker indeed comes, said Dave. (And no, I honestly don’t know who it is. Trust me: I want that scoop!)

Dave also shared that Alex Mooney had resigned, for those in the room who didn’t know, and that Diana Waterman was both acting as interim Chair and running for the position herself. Parker also revealed that the other two Vice-Chairs would retain their positions, meaning that there would be no more than two elections at the convention, for Chair and for First Vice-Chair should Waterman prevail. (As for that race, Red Maryland has a statement dated Monday from Andrew Langer announcing his intention not to run, but advocating support for Anne Arundel County attorney Greg Kline instead.)

Once again, Shawn Jester and Bill Reddish tag-teamed on the Andy Harris report, noting he had been named to the Appropriations Committee and that we were “very fortunate” to have him there. They also called the recent Second Amendment town hall meeting “very successful,” although one allegedly foul-mouthed participant begged to differ.

Ann Suthowski interjected to praise a letter to the Daily Times penned by Joe Ollinger. I wholeheartedly agree.

Woody Willing noted in his Board of Elections report that the number of unaffiliated voters continues to increase at the expense of Republicans and (moreso) Democrats.

The main event – besides Young’s remarks – was nigh, as we finally got around to nominating a slate of officers for 2013. Due to assorted mishaps and misfortunes, we could not do our usual process of choosing leadership so this year’s crop was nominated from the floor. Since only one person was nominated for each post, the election was conducted shortly thereafter by voice vote. Here are your 2013 WCRC officers:

  • President: Jackie Wellfonder
  • First Vice-President: Marc Kilmer*
  • Second Vice-President: Larry Dodd
  • Third Vice-President: Sean Fahey
  • Fourth Vice-President: Cathy Keim
  • Secretary: Michael Swartz*
  • Treasurer: Deb Okerblom

(*denotes a holdover in the position. Also, Dodd was President in 2012, Okerblom was Fourth Vice-President.)

It was much less momentous, but we also resolved as a group to participate in the Salisbury Festival once again.

Finally, County Council member John Hall spoke briefly about the Tier Map hearing, the situation at the Wicomico County Airport with the upcoming sequestration – “we’ll do what we have to do,” but won’t lose flight service – and announced that FY2013 revenues for the county came in $7 million better than projected thanks to additional income tax collections, which will hopefully soften the blow from a loss in assessed property base.

But the meeting couldn’t have been bad – I won the 50-50 drawing.

The next chapter in WCRC history will begin to be written March 25. Be there or be square.

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.

WCRC meeting – January 2013

After a long hiatus caused by Hurricane Sandy and the holiday season, members of the Wicomico County Republican Club gathered for the first time in nearly two months and in their first formal meeting since late October, before the 2012 elections. No business was transacted at the club’s last get-together, which was their annual Christmas party in early December.

While the 2012 election was touched upon, the upcoming balloting was the topic that featured speaker and State Party First Vice-Chair Diana Waterman would refer to regularly in her remarks. “Lord knows 2014 has got to be better than 2012,” Waterman commented.

Instead, she and the MDGOP wanted to use the election of 2010, where downticket Republicans were successful, as a springboard for the 2014 election. The six House of Delegates members our side picked up made a “humongous impact” by keeping bad legislation from passing, especially at the committee level, because one GOP member was added to each of the House of Delegates’ six committees. “I firmly believe in two-party government,” said Diana.

She spent a large part of her time discussing the MDGOP’s new Pathfinders initiative, which is loosely based on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s “Young Guns” program. It was meant to provide more and greater access to tools which could be provided by the state party as a candidate, committee, or group advanced on certain goals. As Diana reminded us, “doing the job is one thing, (but) getting elected is a whole new ballgame.” Municipal elections like the one in Salisbury are a “fabulous opportunity” to work on campaigns because of their smaller scale, Diana exclaimed.

But her final message was one of unity. “We have to stop (figuratively) shooting each other,” she said. “Put aside our differences.”

We also heard from a number of other observers, with the first report coming from Wicomico County GOP Chair Dave Parker.

Parker announced the Lincoln Day Dinner will be held March 23, a date which just happens to coincide with the Pathfinders training coming to Wicomico County. (The two are unrelated.) He also expounded on the recent efforts at gun control, pointing out he will have an editorial in next Sunday’s Daily Times. Dave also praised Delegate Mike McDermott for introducing some common-sense school security bills in the General Assembly.

Bonnie Luna, who helped run the Wicomico County GOP headquarters last fall, called her experience “amazing” and was pleased to present checks to both the Republican Club and the Central Committee out of the donations made at the facility. All told, thanks to the reimbursements made possible by the donations, the total expenditure to the WCRC was just under $800.

Luna also made sure to praise both Diana Waterman and former MDGOP Chair Audrey Scott, who accompanied Waterman to the meeting, as a source of inspiration (and supplies.) Scott remarked that she had never seen a headquarters repay its local sponsors, telling those in attendance that it was a “miracle” and “that miracle’s name is Bonnie Luna.”

Woody Willing provided turnout records for the 2012 election – as usual, GOP turnout outpaced Democratic efforts by six percentage points.

Finally, Salisbury City Council candidate Jack Heath was introduced to the audience and expressed his vision for the city, which was to enhance the quality of life by providing jobs and education, a vibrant downtown, and government adopting the best ideas regardless of their source. He pledged to work with whoever is elected mayor and City Councilman from District 1.

Two other announcements were made at the gathering: Joe Ollinger told us the Republican Club Crab Feast will be held September 7, and County Councilman Bob Culver revealed a hearing on the septic bill tier maps (last year’s SB236) will be held February 20 at 6 p.m. in the Midway Room of the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center.

As for the Republican Club, their next meeting will be February 25, with a guest speaker to be determined.

Update: Jackie Wellfonder, who also attended the meeting, has her thoughts on what Waterman said on her site.

Update 2: In turn, more reaction to Wellfonder’s thoughts at Global Rhetoric, Joseph Steffen’s site.

Observations on a budget

It seems to me that political theater in Wicomico County only comes around once or twice per annum, and that occasion reared its head again last night.

Since I have a life which doesn’t revolve completely around local politics, and since I already knew just how the proceedings would go from previous experience, I chose to sit and watch the hearing from the comfort of my living room on PAC-14. And while there were a couple occasions when I was ready to bolt out of my chair and make the five-minute drive down to the Civic Center, I refrained knowing that I would have the opportunity to say my piece in this space. Besides, I write better than I speak and I’m not limited to five minutes at the mike sitting here in my easy chair.

In essence, what this fight boils down to is whether we need to tax ourselves into oblivion or not. Sure, it’s only a 5 cent per $100 tax which affects only property owners that’s the largest controversy. But increasing the property tax rate also increases the personal property tax (also known as the ‘inventory’ tax) because it’s calculated on the property tax rate, times a factor of 2.5. So that rate will leap 12.5 cents per $100. Other fee tax increases proposed (remember, according to the Democrats, a fee is a tax) include charging homeowners more for mosquito spraying, setting a minimum tipping fee of $5, and increasing the price of solid waste permits by 9 percent.

A large part of last night’s discussion seemed to center around the Board of Education’s budget, with one commentator stating the case that a decrease in the BOE budget would end up increasing the budgets for law enforcement and the county corrections facilities. The school board seemed to have the largest lobbying group there.

However, the grousing shouldn’t be at the local board of education. Nope, our problems began when no one had the guts (or a judge who exhibited a little common sense) to tell the Thornton Commission to go pound sand. Supposedly the state didn’t fund education enough, so a formula was established to mandate how much counties were required to spend per pupil. Whether the number has any basis in reality or not, that’s what the state and county has to come up with to meet ‘maintenance of effort’ requirements. Some whined about the fact Wicomico needed a waiver from MOE, but I think we should have a permanent waiver. The state would be far better served to let the money follow the child and allow the parent more choice, but that’s a discussion far beyond the scope of a modest-sized county’s budget.

G.A. Harrison brought up a point I’d brought up before, and one promised by the County Executive before he was even elected. We were told that the budget would be stripped down to nothing (as County Executive Rick Pollitt claimed to do in Fruitland) then rebuilt as needs were apparent.

Unfortunately, our process seems to lean too heavily on department heads who aren’t even willing to level-fund their departments, let alone make cuts. Perhaps the budget building needed to proceed as follows – and bear in mind Rick Pollitt has threatened to create a ‘shadow budget’ in the past.

We generally have an idea of what our revenues should look like before the budget is even created. I’ll present the following scenario, with numbers that are generally close to the mark but may not be exact.

Let’s assume that projected revenue without tax or fee increases of any sort is $110 million. By prioritizing what services need to be provided, the budget is prepared as if that would be the actual revenue. We should have an idea of what employees are paid, how much facility costs are, price of office supplies needed, and so forth.

At that point, we can estimate the impact of any tax or fee increases, regardless of how small, and then assign an extra expenditure to each – it doesn’t necessarily have to be in that department. Let’s say the $5 tipping fee creates $100,000 in revenue and thanks to that influx of cash we can hire (or retain) two teachers. For that matter, it could be any of a menu of options that we can think of – it’s two teachers, or staffing for an economic development office, or new radio equipment for the sheriff’s department, or HVAC renovations to a county facility. Whatever it is, at that point we can determine whether we want to bear the extra cost among ourselves for (the statists’ code phrase for this would ‘invest in’) the additional service or improvement.

Instead, we are just told that to maintain this county’s ‘quality of life’ (and how do we measure the cost/benefit analysis of that?) we have to increase these taxes and fees to match the budget wants County Executive Pollitt has set forth. If we don’t tax ourselves this way then someone has to suffer.

This method is working the system exactly backwards – it’s like walking into a restaurant with $15 and wanting the $19.95 buffet. They’ll let you up to the serving line, but you can’t have the steamed crabs, prime rib, or cheesecake. All you can eat are the items no one else will have like the Brussels sprouts and tofu. Maybe – just maybe – we’ll allow a plain lettuce salad; no dressing.

The better way would be to have the buffet come with a selection of inexpensive foods and cost $15, with the steamed crabs, prime rib, and cheesecake a $4.95 additional option if you desire to pay for it.

Our problem is one of perception. Everything goes up in price constantly, and the pound of flesh the federal and state governments extract out of us every year is beginning to feel more like they’re extracting five pounds apiece. Meanwhile, the quality of services doesn’t improve as quickly as the costs escalate. People notice this most in the perceived quality of our educational system, citing anecdotal evidence of high school graduates who can’t count change, speak proper English, or fill out a job application. Roads which were fixed a couple years earlier are already falling apart, they say, and they have to visit four governmental offices to get a simple permit. We all have our horror stories of dealing with government bureaucrats.

Of all the suggestions made during the portion of the county budget proceedings I watched, I thought those made by Tom Taylor made the most sense. His campaigns were always ones of thinking out of the box, seeking limited government solutions. (It was surprising that Tom twice sought the Democratic nomination for County Executive, but perhaps he’ll change those political stripes someday.) Contrast that with the person who spoke after him, Joe Ollinger – he basically said go ahead and raise my taxes because you’ve always (except for last year) raised them the maximum amount allowed. Sometimes precedents are made to be broken, and he of all people should realize there was a reason taxes weren’t jacked up to the max in 2010 – it was an election year! Rick Pollitt may not look like the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he possesses some political savvy.

If my math is correct – and generally it is – doing without the 5 cent tax increase would require about $4.5 million in cuts from a budget of $111 million. (Property tax revenue consists of about $3.9 million of that, with the corresponding inventory tax increase accounting for the other $600,000 or so.) That’s essentially a 4 percent across-the-board cut, and I believe that’s doable if the budget is pieced together in the proper fashion. (Remember, my theory is that it should have been based on the lower number, with optional buys and personnel placed as extra line-items.)

Instead, we get this annual (or semi-annual, as lean times have sometimes forced a mid-year course correction) whinefest where everyone pleads to either not have their pet services cut or not have their taxes raised. It’s pretty apparent whose side I’m on, because I don’t equate spending taxpayer money with gaining a better quality of life like Brad Gillis does. In my eyes, we should worry about the core of the core services first, then come up with the extras as we can afford them – taking into consideration their economic impact.

I trust our County Council will do just that, and the ball is now in their court. They just have to stand strong against the seductive pressure of constantly hearing that it’s only a little tax increase of money we’re entitled to anyhow under the revenue cap. Until the working people don’t have a revenue cap placed on them, the county government needs to do with less.

One final note: the speed camera legislation we thought was dead is rearing its ugly head again. Be at the County Council meeting June 7th and tell them they don’t need Big Brother as a revenue source. Speed cameras are not about safety, they’re about the cash. And Wicomico County will be the first to tell you they need more cash.

Not taxed enough already?

And to think I voted for this guy?

Perhaps Joe Ollinger doesn’t explain his case very well in a recent Letter to the Editor published in the Daily Times, but his contention is that we should gladly pay the nickel per $100 increase in property taxes here because, “in those years that property values decrease, such as this year, to maintain a revenue flow that keeps pace with inflation and population growth, the tax rate must increase by the maximum allowed by the cap.”

But it didn’t last year because his opponent, incumbent County Executive Rick Pollitt, was fretting over his re-election chances. So where was Joe then? Certainly he wasn’t advocating that Rick bleed local property owners dry! Remember, Pollitt was the one who complained for the entire first three years of his term about the cap and threatened to create a “shadow budget” with items he had to cut because revenues weren’t to his liking.

Yet even after the piece in the Daily Times, Joe was at the Republican Club meeting last night handing out a flyer which claimed Pollitt’s proposal to zero out the homestead credit has several “shortcomings.” These are directly from the flyer:

  • It is unfair. One group will benefit at the expense of other groups (renters, commercial property owners, future homebuyers, our own children and/or grandchildren)
  • It is a subsidy, and as with all subsidies, one group receives an economic benefit to the detriment of others.
  • It is not the “American independent – I’ll pay my own way” conservative attitude. Instead, it is a liberal socialist idea that expects a faceless society to pay for a portion of your expenses.
  • It will artificially increase the real property tax rate.
  • It will artificially increase the personal property rate.
  • It is bad for business and economic development.
  • It will decrease residential real estate activity.
  • It will increase the complexity of the tax code.

I suppose the best way to look at this is point by point. Joe has some good arguments, and some clunkers.

First of all, I don’t care a lot for the emotional appeal of calling something unfair; that sounds like something an eight-year-old would do. While it’s indeed true that the government is using the tax code to promote a certain behavior, I don’t think that a family or a homeowning couple is going to let a tax break of a few hundred dollars over time stop them if they want to move to a better school district, buy a larger (or smaller) home, or pursue a better economic opportunity. Unfortunately, our modern society is littered with these cases where one group has an advantage over other groups; case in point – the home mortgage interest deduction, which is a much larger incentive to buy a home than a minor property tax break.

My thought on point number two (the “subsidy” point) is much along the line of the first item.

But I don’t see where that tax break is such a “liberal socialist” idea – after all, we all want lower taxes. Right now, we have two options on the table: a 10% homestead exemption or a zero homestead exemption. So far, given Joe’s track record of questioning the opposition to a nickel property tax increase (even one which falls within the revenue cap) I wonder why he’s chosen this hill to fight on. No one has yet justified why we couldn’t cut another three percent from our overall budget, which is approximately the amount being discussed.

Since I don’t know whether our current homestead exemption is factored into the existing rates for either property tax or personal property tax (better known as the inventory tax; a tax Wicomico County is alone among Maryland jurisdictions in charging) I can’t rebut or agree with Joe’s fourth and fifth points.

But I do think it’s a stretch to say that a homestead tax exemption change would be “bad for business and economic development.” Perhaps I need some examples of counties which have tried this and how they fared. My guess is that there were a number of much larger factors which had to do with other overtaxation, red tape, and regulation that sent them spiraling downward economically.

I’d also like to see proof of point number seven (“decrease residential real estate activity”) with examples. We’re pretty much at the bottom of the barrel now.

I can agree with Joe’s final point, though. But then again, we should already have a pretty complex system based on the rates in effect when a home was purchased and then increased by the maximum amount when times were good and assessments shot through the roof. Does the 10% increase now in effect take into account all the money “lost” to the county when a property’s value shot up 40 percent but taxes only increased 10 percent? Is there a “catch-up” provision?

For example, take a mythical home assessed at $100,000 in a particular tax year and taxed at $1 per hundred dollars of valuation; their annual tax would be $1,000. The way I figure it, raising the assessed value a year later to $150,000 (assuming the same tax rate) would increase taxes to $1,500 – but under the 10% rule they could only go up to $1,100 because your taxable assessed value only can go up to $110,000. Does the county lose out on that $400 entirely or is that worked into the next year’s tax rate?

The whole idea behind the zero homestead exemption is to have a tradeoff; as Pollitt notes in his budget presentation:

“(I)n return for a slightly higher tax rate, I’m proposing to make sure our home-owning citizens get a permanent tax break starting in fiscal year 2013 to go with the increase.”

Beginning in FY2013, Pollitt wants the amount you’re assessed on to never go up – if your FY2013 assessment is $100,000 that’s where it will stay. But (and this is a BIG but,) that doesn’t mean your taxes wouldn’t increase. Whatever the state determines for “constant yield” and can be slid under the revenue cap, that rate increase will still hit you. Next year it may be a nickel again – or it could be a dime.

Of course, there’s a corollary to this as well – what if assessed values continue to plummet? Does this provision allow you to have a lower assessed value and remain there? We don’t know the answer to that, but there’s a very real possibility we haven’t weathered the real estate storm yet and that this scenario could apply.

The proposal needs to be explained in terms a layman can understand, with real-life examples from counties which have taken the lead in this area.

Julie Brewington has her take on the situation as well.

The end of Americans for Prosperity?

Well, at least one observer thinks the TEA Party will be awful mad about a recent statement by the group’s president.

Writing at the Green Hell Blog (h/t Blue Ridge Forum), Steve Milloy posits that a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Rep. Fred Upton, incoming head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Americans for Prosperity head Tim Phillips charts a course toward capitulation to the Democrats and Obama Administration through a “sensible bipartisan compromise” on delaying the EPA regulations until the courts can determine their fate.

Obviously each individual chapter of AFP need not follow the dictates of the group’s president, but at a time where the group has been criticized locally (by a onetime AFP head) and around the state for being too co-opted by “establishment” Republicans who wanted to take advantage of the TEA Party and its energy, this is probably not the way for the organization to go.

Conservatives and TEA Partiers were already upset that it was Upton’s turn to be head of that committee, preferring instead that Rep. Joe Barton reassume the job he lost when Republicans were ousted from the majority in 2006. He would have needed a waiver of a six-year term limit on the chairmanship, but argued that his term effectively was wasted for four of those years by being simply the ranking member.

The problem with “sensible bipartisan compromise” is that one man’s ‘sensible’ is another man’s ‘surrender’ and it seems to me we have the mandate on our side. (Never mind that one side also has the tendency to lie through its teeth when it comes to cutting spending or the size of government. Their idea of government cuts? How about the ‘peace dividend’ and other ways of gutting the military?)

Furthermore, we’ve just come out of a ‘lame duck’ Congressional session where bipartisan compromise in the Senate gave us gays serving openly in the military, a bad nuclear treaty, another round of unemployment benefit extensions, and restoration of the death tax in exchange for a puny two-year extension of current income tax rates. Perhaps some of these shortcomings can be addressed in the upcoming 112th Congress (which will, among other things, replace our local ‘Blue Dog’ Democrat Frank Kratovil with conservative Andy Harris) but if this piece by Upton reflects the tenor of House leadership toward Democrats the TEA Party will be sorely disappointed.

At risk is a group which already has a serious strike against it by being, as they state on their website, “a section 501(c)(4) organization under the Internal Revenue Code… AFP can advocate for and against specific legislation at the state and federal levels.” But they can’t advocate for or against particular candidates, which becomes a problem in the cases where a conservative squares off against an “establishment” party member in the primary. While other TEA Party organizations scored successes in that area (like electing Marco Rubio in Florida) AFP had to remain silent and watch as other TEA Party conservatives like Joe Miller in Alaska or Sharron Angle in Nevada lost close races, in part because of the reluctance of ‘establishment’ Republicans to back the upstarts.

On a more local scale, imagine if AFP could have openly backed Michael James for a Maryland Senate seat or Joe Ollinger for County Executive. It could have made the difference, particularly in the Senate race where Democrat Jim Mathias all but portrayed himself as Ronald Reagan reincarnated.

Locally, the AFP chapter has waned since one co-founder left after her ill-fated run for office and the other, ironically enough, vacated to take an elected position in the local Republican Party. The former has shifted her involvement into the Wicomico Society of Patriots, an offshoot of the state group.

And she’ll be the one who might be saying “I told you so.”

Obviously, unless they decide to seek office and win, the amount of fealty an officeholder has to someone’s set of principles will almost never be 100 percent. (Witness the results of the ongoing monoblogue Accountability Project, which will return next summer.) But in the political arena, where making law is akin to making sausage, compromising the broad set of principles most in the TEA Party stand for should be a last resort and not an opening parlay. That’s a gambit which will never pay off in dividends for freedom-loving Americans like those in the TEA Party and may lead to a damaging third-party effort come 2012.

WCRC meeting – October 2010

For the Wicomico County Republican Club, the 2007-2010 election cycle came to an end tonight; it was the final scheduled meeting before the all-important local and state elections.

As always we led off with the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. It was then announced that two of our three featured speakers could not attend due to a conflict of one sort or another – among the two at-large County Council hopefuls Bob Culver was booked for another event and for Matt Holloway his farming had to take precedence. This left our candidate for County Executive Joe Ollinger as the lone scheduled speaker.

So we heard our treasurer’s report, which brought up a few questions about the club’s expenditures – you may have heard some of them if you listen to local radio. Much of the rest went to various candidates.

Once we reviewed the minutes from September’s meeting it was time to hear from Joe.

After joking that he really didn’t need to speak because he had the votes in the room sewn up, Joe wanted to make sure everyone checked out his video. He even had cards made which simply repeated the website his video could be found at. But rather than pass out a number of cards, I’ll just go a step further.

So far Joe’s had “great feedback” on the video and he’s been out campaigning “where the most people are.” Dustin Mills noted later that he sees Joe everywhere he goes on the campaign trail here in Wicomico County. Another video Joe pointed to was one done by the Daily Times, a 30-minute show where he answered a number of questions from the editorial staff.

However, aside from the “very positive” feedback he gets, Joe isn’t sure how the campaign is going. Ollinger mentioned the point-counterpoint featured in Sunday’s Daily Times, and blasted opponent Rick Pollitt for “lack(ing) any vision whatsoever…(he) can’t see the possibilities.” Yet Joe’s radio advertisements are quite positive, encouraging everyone to get out and vote. Joe also related that a debate between him and Pollitt is all but ruled out.

Some of the questions Joe answered regarded changes in procedure at the county’s landfill. The questioner wanted to know about converting the large amount of cellulose brought there into alcohol and allowing people to claim usable items tossed out via a licensing system of some sort. Ollinger said they sounded like good ideas which could merit further study.

He also answered a question about the county’s public information officer – “Jim Fineran won’t be there” in January should Joe win. In addition, Ollinger is considering searching for a new county administrator once the FY2012 budgetary process is complete.

Other observations Joe made were that the campaign was a “very enjoyable experience,” and that he’s “become a far bigger fan of the firemen” since he’s spoken with so many in the county and learned about their jobs. He also opined that County Council could learn a lot from some of the smaller municipalities.

Turning back to club business and reports, it was announced that the “Fire Pelosi” bus tour would be in Salisbury Friday morning at 9:30 at the Victory Center (the former Hollywood Video adjacent to SU.) Not only will it feature RNC Chair Michael Steele but also Bob Ehrlich and Andy Harris as well.

Dustin Mills gave the Lower Shore Young Republican report, which was simple: phone banking each Wednesday night and “doing everything we can” for candidates.

A poll watching report was given by Greg Belcher, who reported “a couple mild successes” in keeping poll workers in line. Mainly they get in the habit of asking leading questions when they’re not supposed to. “The Democrats are pretty desperate,” he added.

Giving his final Central Committee report, the outgoing Chair John Bartkovich thanked the WCRC for the support they’ve given over his 12 year tenure. He predicted the campaigns will get dirtier, and candidates should respond immediately.

Bartkovich also announced the Central Committee would be airing radio ads this week, and chided Jim Mathias in particular for his ads – “he sounds more conservative than I am.” (Just look at the record and you’ll see the real truth.) He also advised us to vote for the county issues and against the state ones, and concluded, “we’ve had a good cycle (and) good candidates who work hard.”

“I’m going out on top,” said John.

Speaking on his campaign, Dustin Mills also thanked those in attendance and said as well that “it’s been a fantastic ride.” Hinting that Rudy Cane would be a lame duck if he wins because he’s considering this his last term, Dustin said of the incumbent “he’s not good enough” for the district. (I say we should retire Cane now – why wait?)

Gail Bartkovich thanked us for our support as well, and noted the comprehensive plan and zoning were two key upcoming issues.

Bill Smith of the Orphan’s Court again plugged his two Democratic cohorts, they “deserve to be reelected.” (He can do that as the lone Republican standing for the three spots.)

We also received thanks via letter from Matt Holloway, Addie Eckardt, Andy Harris, Bob Caldwell, and Rich Colburn for the club’s contribution to their efforts.

Some final reports came from Daryl Ann Dunigan, who reminded the group about phone banking and door-to-door efforts from headquarters; Dave Parker regarding Wednesday’s AFP meeting, and Woody Willing, who wondered why more GOP candidates weren’t campaigning at the early voting site.

Finally, the next meeting will be November 22. Most likely it will be a fairly short meeting to help plan the Christmas Party and analyze how the election went. It will also feature a new presenter of the Central Committee report.

Friday night videos episode 48

It’s back again, with something new at the end.

We are coming to an election where the most important number is in doubt: is the unemployment rate really 9.6% as the government says or 10.1% as Gallup postulates? Americans for Limited Government thinks they have an answer.

But the group Bankrupting America says neither figure tells the story.

Maybe one solution would be to stop regulating us to death? Ben Lieberman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute explains on FOX News.

Yet our elected leadership simply doesn’t get it. They create straw men to pass blame to, for one.

Yes, that was recorded at Obama’s Bowie State appearance. Do you think the man has that feeling about someone like

I don’t think Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gets it either. Ron Futrell of tells the story.

In the most recent Freedom Minute, Renee Giachino describes how liberals are running scared.The guy who should be running scared is Chris Coons; otherwise Delaware voters may be the ones frightened by their tax increases.

I’m still laughing about that one.

I think over the next two weeks I’m going to devote my FNV series to candidate videos – not necessarily the ones done by other media outlets who may or may not have their own agenda, but done by the candidates themselves. Here’s an example from County Executive hopeful Joe Ollinger.

Okay, time to shift gears. Last weekend I was at the Good Beer Festival and I brought my camera. This is an up-and-coming young local band called Naylor Mill. (With a name like that, they have to be local.)

The sound is just a touch overmodulated on the video (it sounded better on my computer before I uploaded it) but you get the idea. In a future FNV episode I’ll feature other stuff from the band.

But for the next couple weeks it’s going to be primarily candidates on themselves.

The Good Beer Festival in pictures and text

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yes, we did our political thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The passion of the PACE (FOP debate part 2)

As I explained in Part 1, it works out much better for writing this (and I would think for reading) to split the accounting into two parts. And while most would have believed the main event would be the County Executive race – particularly because one candidate believes strongly in a countywide police force to supplant the four separate law enforcement jurisdictions we have now – it only served as an undercard to a verbal bout between State’s Attorney candidates.

To once again set the stage, the event was moderated by PACE Director Dr. Adam Hoffman and where I use the terms ‘law enforcement’ and ‘law enforcement officers’ they will be shortened to LE and LEOs, respectively.

Let’s begin with the County Executive race, giving first dibs to the challenger.

With decades of business experience to draw on, Joe Ollinger obviously looks at government from an “outside looking in” standpoint and eventually contrasted himself with his opponent, who to Joe has a different perspective in seeing things through the lense of years of being a bureaucrat.

Since this was a FOP function, Ollinger concentrated heavily on the first question and his proposal for a single, countywide police force. It would be “a lot more efficient,” argued Ollinger, who asked the crowd whether, if they were design things from scratch, they would have such a situation. It’s a situation which prevents communication and cooperation, added Joe. Later, in his closing statement, Ollinger observed that the only resistance to change seems to be coming from inside of government.

Ollinger also revealed that he was only interested in the office for a single, four-year term and believed that, “we shouldn’t have career politicians” doing the task. He also advocated a “pay-for-performance” plan and accountability for the 48% of our county budget devoted to the Board of Education.

Conversely, Rick Pollitt was “moved by President Kennedy’s call to citizenship” and had devoted his career to public service as a commitment to his community. Having said that, though, he pointed out that this was his first elected post.

Regarding the topic of crime, Pollitt was blunt: “I don’t have all the answers.” But he stressed that he’d worked for stronger partnerships and the best equipment and tools, including a push for the LEOPS pension. He also was firmly against combining the agencies because he believed the 30,000 Wicomico citizens who lived in the involved municipalities had no interest in doing so.

In contrast to Ollinger’s businesslike approach, Pollitt stated, “I understand providing services is not like running a business.” Rather than things always being about the bottom line, companies are attracted to the quality of life as the “greatest single economic development tool.” It was a theme he repeated in his closing statement, which occurred after his lone stumble – retreating briefly from the podium Pollitt and Hoffman collided, sending Rick to the floor.

As I noted in Part 1 there was the opportunity for the audience to ask questions, and one member asked Joe Ollinger how a new police agency would be paid for. Ollinger recalled that this subject has been around for at least 15 years, since he served on a countywide consolidated functions committee. The consolidation could have “funding as it is right now,” with the expected savings returned to the municipalities on a proportional basis to their original contributions.

This was the point where Rick Pollitt again responded that “no one wants to consolidate…it’s not gonna happen.” But he agreed there were other areas pointed out by the committee which still could be.

At last, we are left with the State’s Attorney race. This one I’m going to handle on more of a blow-by-blow basis because, of the five audience questions allowed, four were regarding issues in this race.

It didn’t take long for Matt Maciarello to start the verbal jousting – after going through his background and history of leadership, he then claimed, “I believe I’m the most qualified to be State’s Attorney.” Moving into crime-related specifics, he vowed to bring communication and collaboration to the office and to specifically target the criminals who affect us – he was “passionate” about keeping us safe.

This passion was a general theme of Matt’s, but he also took part of his opening remarks to accuse his opponent of being conflicted in the Thomas Leggs/Sarah Foxwell case.

Obviously, W. Seth Mitchell wasn’t going to let that stand too long. He briefly went over his “history of community service” and time in the State’s Attorney office before answering the question about why he should be elected over his opponent quite simply – “it’s called experience.” (He also pointed out the 17 year age difference between him and Maciarello.) To him, the best way to fight crime is through “thorough prosecution.”

So we had the battle lines drawn – Maciarello touting his passion and new ideas while Mitchell countered with the experience card.

After the other table had taken its turn speaking (as detailed in Part 1), wouldn’t you know the first question had to have come from a Mitchell supporter – “how many cases have you tried?”

Maciarello admitted he had tried but two jury trials and “several” bench trials, but countered that he knew his way around civil and crimimal litigation through his career and added that the State’s Attorney doesn’t try every single case himself. After bringing up the fact that longtime local attorney Arch McFadden had endorsed him, Matt countered the Mitchell contention by saying, “experience counts, but the right kind of experience counts too.” He again brought up his leadership roles and rapid career advancement. “If you want a leader, you’ll vote for me,” said Matt, but “if you want someone who’s stood in court” you could vote for Mitchell. Vowed Matt, “I’m the guy who’s going to reduce crime in Wicomico County.”

After Mitchell guessed his count of cases was in the thousands, he snidely remarked that, “Maybe I should vote for him…I guess Matt will do it all.” Seth continued, “if you want someone who’s tried cases, he concedes it’s me.” Mitchell also believe he was the one who the staff would look up to, and reiterated, “if you want experience in the courtroom, it is me.”

I then asked a question I’d raised before, regarding the fact that outgoing SA Davis Ruark also took over the job at a young age, his early 30’s.

Maciarello replied, “I’ve grown just as a candidate,” and that he was “taking the role and responsibility seriously.” He further believed, “a young mind is a flexible mind” and promised to embed prosecutors into LE and the community at large. Citing his energy and drive, he repeated that “I can do this job” and vowed again that, “I’m not going to sleep until crime is addressed.”

In reply, Mitchell said that “I think you can (grow in the office)” but stressed the relationships he’d built up and that “I will be a tough prosecutor.” He also said he’d learned a lot from Sam Vincent as his opponent over the years.

Mitchell also claimed that Davis Ruark had “4 to 6 years” of experience in the State Attorney’s office before he took over. While I can’t verify his claim, I can verify that Ruark passed the bar in 1981, about 6 years prior to his appointment as State’s Attorney. According to Matt’s website, he passed the bar in December 2003, so he’s working on seven years in the field.

Needless to say, someone asked how each would handle the Thomas Leggs/Sarah Foxwell case. This time Mitchell had the first shot.

And Mitchell made sure to say that, “I’ve made several calls to Davis Ruark” regarding the situation and, should he choose to keep Ruark on as an assistant in the case, “there’s nothing to stop me.” But Seth promised “I’ll take care of that case,” and stated the irony of one of Leggs’ defense attorneys (Arch McFadden) endorsing a man who would be in charge of putting his onetime client away.

Maciarello countered by calling this contrast a classic difference in leadership styles and said of Mitchell, “he does not understand attorney ethics.” It was “reckless” to put Mitchell on the Leggs case when he also defended the accused murderer in a case several years ago. Continuing his passionate appeal, Matt told the crowd, “I’m not letting my community go down the tubes.”

The final question addressed to the pair made reference to Davis Ruark’s support of 30 new police officers in Salisbury.

Maciarello expounded on his “proactivity” and wanted to look for grant money to help out. “I’m itching to get in there” and start solving problems like these.

Mitchell was more cautious in his approach. “We always need more police officers on the street,” he said, but getting to that point would require a “balancing act.” Playing off Matt’s analogy of being a football coach in his response, Mitchell chided him by saying you can’t be a football coach but you need to be one of the players.

As for the allegations leveled by Matt on attorney ethics, Seth was “very angry…he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

In the courtroom, it often comes down to the final argument; the point where the cases are summarized.

Maciarello told the FOP, “I want to make you the most effective crime fighter you can be.” He pointed out that he’d ran a positive campaign, but when it came to the top 6 gang members in Salisbury he warned, “I’m coming for you.”

“I’m going to exceed your expectations,” he continued, and “communication will be the culture of my office.” Summing up, Maciarello opined, “a State’s Attorney is a leader…my opponent has a myopic vision” of the office.

Mitchell based his close on the question, “if you were a criminal, who would you most fear? You have to demand the skills to do this job.” Recounting the experience and resume gap, he said that “you don’t start at the top.”

“Don’t go with a novice,” he concluded, “go with a professional.”

On the whole, it was obvious that Matt was passionate – almost to a fault. Yet he also seemed to have a better vision of the administrative side of the job – where the office could go and how to be a leader in it. Moreover, you always wonder how someone who was a defense attorney would fare on the other side, and could he be effective putting away those he may have defended in the past (including, but not limited to, Thomas Leggs.)

In any case, this donnybrook for State’s Attorney may have become the most contentious race in the area, one which seems to be a small-scale model of larger races like the Ehrlich-O’Malley or Harris-Kratovil contests. Potted plants need not apply.