2014 Wicomico County NAACP forum draws county candidates (part 2)

On Friday I discussed the portion of the forum dealing with the aspirants for County Executive, so today I turn my attention to those running for the seven County Council seats. A total of 15 people are running for these seats, and 13 of them stated their case on Thursday night. Just as a reminder, the forum was hosted by the Wicomico County NAACP and its president, Mary Ashanti, and moderated by Orville Penn, a veteran of these affairs.

I’ll begin with the four who are running for two at-large seats – in order of presentation they are John Cannon, Laura Mitchell, Matt Holloway, and Muir Boda. They dealt with a little different set of questions, being queried about the prospects of funding the Chipman Center where the forum was held, the merits of an elected school board, an increase in the minimum wage, and thoughts on a race relations commission.

John Cannon served on the County Council as an at-large member from 2006-10 before an unsuccessful run for state delegate pushed him off the political stage. He agreed job growth and restoring our economic base would be “important goals to set,” believing that the pieces, such as the local universities and Peninsula Regional Medical Center, were in place and would be “the one tide which would raise all boats.”

Obviously John was kidding when he told moderator Orville Penn that “we’ll give you the Taj Mahal here” when referring to the Chipman Center, but he used that question as a springboard to state the case that the state had “absolutely ripped our budget” over the last few years through reductions in highway user money and passing along teacher pensions, among other things. We would have to figure out how to raise money on our own, continued John, and job growth was key. “We’re not going to increase taxes,” said Cannon, but if we can improve the economic situation we can “look after citizens as a whole” and try to find resources for needs such as the Chipman Center.

“I would like to see an elected school board,” said Cannon. He respected the Board of Education’s work, but would like to see more accountability because he was concerned about their audit. Moreover, while spending for the rest of government was perpetually on the chopping block during his previous tenure on County Council, he “never felt as if the school board was really on board to make the same cuts that they should have been doing.”

As for the minimum wage, Cannon asserted that at least one of two things would occur if the minimum was raised, if not both: overall price inflation and cuts in hours and jobs. He reminded the audience that the CBO predicted at least 500,000 jobs lost nationwide if the national minimum was increased to $10.10 an hour and that only 19% of the individuals below poverty level would be helped. The alternative, John continued, was an increase in the earned income tax credit, whether at the state or federal level.

A commission on race relation “would be a great idea,” Cannon said. He advocated “asset building,” where all local resources are brought together to address the issue. He concluded his remarks by noting that serving on the Council heightens awareness and is like getting a “master’s degree in all areas.”

A current elected official in a similar office is seeking a Council seat as well. Laura Mitchell was elected to Salisbury City Council in 2011 and is running from the cover of that seat for a county post. But in addressing those who believe government should be run like a business, she said, “really, you don’t, because businesses are there to make a profit, and we don’t want our government to make a profit. They should do exactly what their mandate is.” She’s tried to instill that in the city and wants to bring it to the county.

“There is a role for the county to play” in restoring the Chipman Center, said Laura. It could be the “connector” for funding and volunteers, but she agreed there is some responsibility for the city and county.

Regarding the school board, Mitchell told those assembled that “as far as I would be willing to go is a hybrid” school board with both appointees and elected members. Rather than being more accountable, she thought those elected would be more beholden to their donors and not the students. She argued that there’s a balance with an appointed board, and that members who serve at the pleasure of the Governor could be more easily removed as opposed to conducting a recall election.

Laura was in support of a minimum wage increase, asserting many who would be helped were single mothers; furthermore, “minimum wage needs to keep pace with inflation…it would be at about $10.40 had it kept pace.” As for employers, “this is one of those costs of doing business,” said Mitchell, lumping it in with other costs such as materials. She argued that it would be better to raise the minimum, otherwise “it’s more beneficial for them to sit home and collect a check (because) they can’t afford to go to work.”

A race relations committee was a great idea, but the need was larger than just a committee would provide. “It is our job to start that conversation,” she added. But with several different organizations chasing the same goal, an “asset map” would be helpful in determining a course of action, although the existing Safe Streets program is already working in that direction.

After remarking how she loves learning new things, Mitchell concluded that while she loves what they’ve been able to do at the city level, she’s run into some “stumbling blocks” on the county side – we needed more partnerships between the county and municipalities.

Of the two current at-large members of County Council, only Matt Holloway is seeking re-election as Bob Culver is running for County Executive. He originally ran in 2010 to provide a perspective from the agricultural community, stressing property rights. In the time since he’s come on board, he’s become the “bridge builder,” believing the relationship with the County Executive “is stronger than it’s ever been,” as is our relationship with the state. Matt also touted his membership on two governor-appointed committees, the Sustainable Growth Commission and the Critical Areas Commission. “I bring a lot of things to the table,” said Matt.

Restoring historic buildings was one of the county’s functions, remarked Matt regarding the Chipman Center, much like the county has an interest in keeping up the Pemberton estate and the old courthouse, which is in need of renovations. County government “could play a role” in resoring Chipman.

Matt also favored an elected school board, touching on Mitchell’s objection because he felt it would be a good thing if members felt like they owed someone. “They would feel like they’re responsible to the taxpayer,” said Matt. “It’s about accountability.” He was okay with a hybrid board as an interim step.

In discussing the minimum wage increase, though, Matt conceded the county has little role. But an increase “could be very detrimental” to the climate they were trying to create with recent tax reforms. “I don’t think the time is right,” said Matt.

Matt argued that many of the current committees formed by the Council were already diverse, but before establishing a citizens’ race relations committee, we should get the key players together and “come up with a game plan first.” He concluded in his closing remarks that he had helped the minority community by improving education, law enforcement, and business.

Muir Boda is no stranger to the ballot; this is his fourth run for elective office after bids for Salisbury City Council in 2009 and 2011 and Congress in 2012.

But he saw they key issues as a three-legged stool, with curtailing crime, providing educational opportunity, and improving the economic climate being the three legs. “All three have to work,” said Boda.

In restoring the Chipman Center, Boda would support a partnership between the county, city, and Community Foundation – they would be “the avenue we could go through first.” They could help raise the appropriate funds.

While Boda also preferred an elected school board, he also had a stipulation for a hybrid model where appointees would be determined locally rather than by Annapolis, which has no local accountability.

Since Muir has a position where he works with a lot of younger workers who make minimum wage, he could point out that there were a lot of things they could not legally do, such as run machinery. They were only useful in certain positions. Small businesses would cut positions and hours, he argued. “We have to understand what entry-level positions are to companies,” added Boda.

Boda returned to his three-legged stool analogy in describing his thoughts on race relations, citing the High Point initiative as well. “Everything has to be seamless…if you have skyrocketing crime rates, it’s going to affect companies that want to come here and invest in our community,” said Muir. “This (commission) is one piece of the puzzle.” He got to buttress his points because he gave his closing statement immediately after his answer to the previous question.

Compared to the lengthy segment dealing with the at-large Council candidates, the district races were quite brief.

In District 1, two of the three contenders came to discuss the issues.

McKinley Hayward was making his second try at the District 1 Council seat, having lost in the 2006 primary to current seatholder Sheree Sample-Hughes. If elected, he said, “I don’t want to be a political figure, I want to be a working figure for Wicomico County.”

When asked what the three biggest challenges to Wicomico County were, Hayward cited four: “empowering our community through jobs, education, housing, and employment.” Creating a good job which would enable workers to invest in their own homes was his goal, and Hayward saw high-tech jobs as the ticket. “I want Rick Pollitt to hear this – we need to invest in our future,” Hayward said. “Fruitland had a vision,” he continued, but what about the Mardela end of the county? Thousands go to Ocean City every weekend, but “we don’t get a dime of that money.”

The key to doing that would be encouraging vocational education and on-the-job training. “You could be a barber and be successful – every man in here has to get a haircut,” exclaimed Hayward.  He went on, “Every kid that graduates from high school should graduate with a resume.”

As for the idea of a race relations committee, McKinley didn’t know if that would solve the problem. He saw it as something more deep-seated.

“I run a playground during the summer at Lake Street,” he said. “My kids see a policeman, they run from him…the only time a black kid sees a policeman, he thinks he’s coming to arrest someone.” It’s a “stigma” we need to get out of in Wicomico County, added Hayward. But if he wins, “no one’s going to be safe” in government because he would do what he feels is best for the county.

One of two opponents for Hayward, Ernest Davis, cited his experience with the Maryland State Police and two businesses he’s created, along with his belief that “I’m a working person” as part of his calling card. His key issues were education, economic growth, and agriculture. This worked out well with the next question, where Davis expanded on these issues, particularly in agriculture. He warned that phosphorus regulations could hurt the local agricultural industry, leading to dire consequences. We also needed to promote our county’s educational institutions and proximity to Wallops Island. “That thing is growing leaps and bounds,” Davis added.

Davis also advocated bringing all the parties to the table in dealing with race relations, rather than pulling in several different directions.

But returning to his three main points for his close, Ernest believed that, “Wicomico needs to start tooting its own horn (and) standing on its own two feet.”

The third candidate in the District 1 race, Marvin Ames, was absent from the forum. Similarly, District 2 candidate Kirby Travers missed the affair, giving Marc Kilmer an opportunity to go through his first forum without any opposition.

So Marc got to speak about those things he wanted to accomplish in making the county better for his two young children: education, having a safe community, and jobs.

The District 3 race had all three contenders, and drawing first blood for them was former County Council member Larry Dodd, who served there from 2002-06. Since 2009 he’s been a member of the Wicomico County Board of Education. It was in that vein he noted, “I’m here for your kids and the future of Wicmico County.”

In discussing job creation, Dodd made the case that “I believe in smaller government,” but maintained that education, crime control, and economic development were indeed legitimate functions of government. He praised the local vocational programs and the efforts in place to control crime, but the key was keeping kids in school.

Common Core was an issue which was brought up, but Dodd conceded it can’t be scrapped because “it’s state mandated.” But “we are working to make it better and usable,” said Larry.

Dodd chose to close in part by thanking current District 3 Council member Gail Bartkovich for her service, touting his experience and skills and pointing out “I’m invested in this community.”

In contrast, Josh Hastings was making his first run for office. His background is mainly in the land protection and environmental fields, including the Rural Maryland Council and a stint in the office of the chair of the Maryland Senate’s Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. “I’m here to protect our farms and our rural industries,” said Hastings, who would build on relationships across the state and the Shore.

Hastings didn’t believe it was the role of government to create jobs; rather, it’s the council and executive’s job to use dollars wisely and efficiently. But he felt they should have a say in how an area looks and grows.

He also admitted he didn’t know enough about Common Core to have an opinion, but would listen to the teachers.

Josh concluded that it should be possible to be the number one county in the number one state for education. We also needed to build upon what makes us special and unique, and he would “continue to build the relationships” to assist in that.

After two unsuccessful runs for County Executive, Tom Taylor decided to try for the legislative branch this time. To begin, he claimed that he “wanted to represent the largest minority in Wicomico County – the individual.” People needed to realize that Annapolis is taking our local representation away – “things are getting out of your control…we have to get control of these things.”

Taylor had an interesting take on job creation as well. “It’s not the role of government to make sure everyone has a job,” said Tom. “The role of the government is to protect individual rights and property, and protect people so they can create these jobs.” Just give businesses the opportunity to create jobs by minimizing government intrusion, said Tom.

When it came to the core curriculum, Taylor was blunt. “I don’t like my son and his education being an experiment in social engineering.” Instead, we have to rubber-stamp everything which comes from Annapolis. His goal was to maximize classroom spending.

If elected, concluded Taylor, he vowed to fight for our Constitutional and property rights. “I’ve taken it to Annapolis before,” Tom said. “I’m more of a pit bull than the lovable person you see here.” We should accomplish our goals without the fear of government intrusion.

Our final segment combined both Districts 4 and 5 because District 4 Council member John Hall is unopposed for a full term.

Hall assessed the current situation thusly: “There is a light at the end of the tunnel, and my job is not to extend the length of the tunnel.”

The first question for the group was on racial disparity in jobs and housing, and Hall agreed “we have racial and economic disparities.” While we could have committees and asset maps, “education is going to be the key.” There should be more opportunities for the 36% of Wicomico County residents who are minorities. And when asked how the Board of Education could be more efficient, Hall advocated for an elected board.

But in his conclusion, John conceded “we’re living in a difficult time.” He also asked people to be “role models, not roadblocks.”

Representing District 5 since 2006, Joe Holloway reminded us that “we started in the recession.” And among those tough decisions to slice up the financial pie, finding out about the Board of Education audit was “very disappointing.” He even was surprised to agree with the Daily Times assessment of the situation as a “financial failure.”

Assistance in getting jobs back would come from reducing the impact fees, which now seems to have the County Executive on board because much of that housing growth was going to Sussex County, Delaware. As for raising the minimum wage, “I have a little problem with raising the minimum wage.” It’s a “training ground,” he continued. Moreover, the salaries of those who make a little bit over the minimum would have to go up as well. “I see a big jump in unemployment,” Joe said. He hoped that $10.10 was just a negotiating ploy and a lesser amount would be acceptable.

“It’s no secret I support an elected school board,” continued Joe. And it was an issue where, despite the fact that those things the Board of Education was spending on were within their policies, Joe reminded us he had “caught hell” for bringing up these same problems five years ago. An elected school board would be a good “first step.”

And after picking on the school board, in his conclusion Joe decided “to pick on Annapolis a little bit.” He warned that “if we’re not careful, Annapolis is going to run the poultry industry off the Eastern Shore…we will be a ghost town.” Everyone in county government was on board with that, and while the idea of job creation was great we need to consider how to keep the jobs we have. “We’re not sitting up there twiddling our thumbs,” concluded Joe.

Ron Pagano had a different tack on many issues. As an job creator and advocate for the disabled, among other groups, he wanted to provide equal opportunity, better housing, and improved public transportation, which was a cause dear to him. He wanted to keep our kids here, as “our kids should always be part of our vision.”

Ron also vowed to “talk to anyone about job creation,” but differed from most of the others in supporting a “fair” minimum wage. “$7.25 an hour is not enough to raise a family, let alone doing anything outside buying bread and milk,” said Pagano. A smaller minimum also drives up the cost of the SNAP program, he argued.

He also took a moment to express his support of a “biracial commission,” recalling a similar organization existed in the days when U.S. 13 and U.S. 50 were built and that era’s “tearing apart of neighborhoods.”

Pagano agreed the Board of Education audit “isn’t pretty,” but wanted to see what the Sage Policy Group report had to say. But he defended the Board, stating “as an attorney, I always knew there was two sides to every story.” He was against an elected board, saying “the problem with an elected board is that no one wants to run,” particularly with the financial disclosure reports required. He also pointed out the “balance” between parties.

He summed up by revisiting job creation. “I want to focus on bringing jobs to this community,” noting that Wor-Wic Community College will customize training programs to various companies. Ron also sought to establish partnerships, particularly with NASA Wallops: “I personally will go to NASA Wallops and speak to the director there – I’ll speak to whoever wants to create jobs here.” Given that we have job creators like Jubilant Cadista – which, Ron noted, has created 300 local jobs in the last 7 years and is on track for 200 more – “obviously there is something about Wicomico County that appealed to Jubilant Cadista, and we can appeal to others as well. I will promise you I will bring jobs to the county,” Pagano concluded.

After 2 1/2 hours, the forum came to a close and the 60 to 70 people who crammed into the room went their separate ways. Among those offices covered in the event, the fields for county executive and County Council Districts 2 and 5 are set since only one from each party filed. District 1 will be decided in the Democratic primary since no Republican filed, and District 4’s John Hall is unopposed. Out of all those there, only one District 3 aspirant and one for at-large will be eliminated.

But the event was useful in staking out some positions, and there will likely be several more forums for candidates to attend in upcoming weeks.

WCRC meeting – March 2014

While tonight’s meeting was pretty much standing room only, the oddity was (by my count) there were in the room more candidates and those who are helping out campaigns than what one termed ‘regular people.” Of course, with 13 running for Central Committee (including yours truly) that was going to increase the odds a little bit as 9 of those 13 hopefuls were present, as were many seeking other positions. Once we did our usual club business of reciting the Lord’s Prayer (yes, we still do that and not one person is offended by it), Pledge of Allegiance, and treasurer’s report, we got a number of campaign updates.

But amongst all those who spent a couple minutes relating their stories about doing door-to-door or announcing their upcoming fundraisers as we went around the room for campaign updates, there were two candidates who we asked to speak. Both are seeking the District 3 Wicomico County Council seat currently held by Gail Bartkovich, who chose not to seek another term.

Larry Dodd was familiar to all of us because he had served as the president of the WCRC from 2011 to 2013, immediately before our current president Jackie Wellfonder. (Dodd is still a club officer.) He pointed out that he was the father of 12-year-old twins that were in public school, which he stated “aren’t all bad.” Larry may share a little of those plaudits because he’s been on the Wicomico County Board of Education since 2009, and was reappointed for a five-year term in 2013. Prior to that he served as a County Council member from 2002-06, in the district now represented by Joe Holloway. Redistricting shifted him to District 3, which was good because “I was going to run anyway.” He conceded, though, it would be tough to follow “one of the best” in Gail Bartkovich.

Before a serious injury sidelined him, Larry was an active firefighter and EMT, acquiring “all the certifications I could get” and earning a master’s degree in the field. He is planning to resume teaching in the EMT field in the next few months.

Larry took a somehat different approach to his presentation, though. While he pointed out a couple of his key issues, stating that “crime is the biggest issue” in the county and calling for “more cohesion” between city and county. he also stated the case that living in Salisbury “has its issues.”  Other bullet points for Larry were – naturally – education and agriculture, where he felt “we need to protect farmers.”

But he also asked what we felt were significant issues, and brought up a few possibilities: a countywide water and sewer district, teacher’s pensions, hughway user funds, and reducing overall spending.

Larry also beseeched us, saying “everybody needs to work together” and that we need to hit the streets and work for candidates. “You can’t vote for third party candidates” in this election, he concluded.

Tom Taylor is no stranger to running for office, either. In 2006 and 2010 he ran for County Executive on the Democratic ticket, making his appeal to the most conservative part of the Democratic party – as a result, he only got a small percentage of the vote. Now as a Republican, he’s running for the Council seat despite the fact “I feel like the County Council is becoming irrelevant” due to the influence Annapolis policies have on the county. But he also warned that he’s “not afraid of shaming anyone to do what’s right.” Our County Council has to stand up to Annapolis and needs to draw “a firm line in the sand” at times, Tom added.

One of his key issues was crime, but he made it plain that “we need a way to protect ourselves” and that the right to carry is “a proven deterrent.” He also advocated zero-based budgeting, which would force us to make the “hard decision” to ask ourselves whether we could afford something rather than the easy choice of raising taxes yet again. Taylor wrapped up his remarks by saying “admitting there’s a problem is the first step to recovery.”

Dave Parker gave the Central Committee report, which mainly focused on the Lincoln Day Dinner but also touched upon a September event we are planning as well. Our plan to invite all four remaining gubernatorial candidates to the LDD was coming together nicely, with all but David Craig confirming their attendance. (To me that’s a surprise.)

As I mentioned earlier, we had a lot of candidates in the room, but one newcomer who got to say a few words was Karen Tolley, who is running for the District 37B seat. Once Johnny Mautz, Jr. arrived we had four of the five would-be Delegates in the room – Allen Nelson was the lone exception. She briefly got to introduce herself, saying “this really is grassroots,” and plugged her campaign site.

Some of the key upcoming events mentioned:

  • Circuit Court judge candidate M.J. Caldwell will have a fundraiser on Wednesday, March 26 at La Tolteca in Salisbury. (I can tell you the food will be good.)
  • The NAACP candidate forum will be held this Thursday, March 27 at the Chipman Center in Salisbury.
  • On Friday, March 28 District 38B hopeful Carl Anderton, Jr. will host a fundraiser at the Evo Public House in Salisbury. (Thumbs up to the Primal Pale Ale there.)
  • District 37B candidate Dr. Rene Desmarais will be holding a Talbot County event on April 3.
  • Gubernatorial candidate David Craig will be hosting an event on April 13 at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge.
  • And of course, our annual Crab Feast will be September 6, so save the date.

We will also have a presence at the Salisbury Festival, although I won’t be there this year because I’ll be at our state convention. Immediately after that weekend will be our next meeting, which will be April 28 with a speaker to be announced.

WCRC meeting – February 2014

Tonight’s gathering wasn’t exactly the one we had planned, but it turned out all right. Considering our outgoing first vice-President Marc Kilmer was placed in charge by the late arrival of president Jackie Wellfonder and that our speaker, District 38B candidate Carl Anderton Jr., was late due to mayoral duties in Delmar, the agenda was reshuffled a few times but we got through in one of the speedier meetings we’ve had recently.

Yet we began the meeting in much the same way many previous meetings have commenced, with the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and Pledge of Allegiance. And while I don’t read the minutes anymore (because they’re posted on the website), we still had the Treasurer’s Report to file.

But because of the absences, we actually led off with Dave Parker’s Central Committee report. He assessed the election as “shaping up rather nicely” as he reported on the candidates who had filed, with a couple last-minute updates from those in attendance. Parker also had some lighter fare as he recited a number of observations based on the thought that “you might be living in a country run by idiots.”

He invited all local Republican candidates to our next Central Committee meeting on March 3, and updated us on the Lincoln Day Dinner where we are still working with our desired speaker on a date – however, if only a midweek event is possible we may have to change the venue.

A number of candidates (or their surrogates) gave updates and reports.

John Hall, who is running for a full term in County Council District 4, noted that “next year will be a very difficult year” financially for the county, and that needed future school projects may have to wait. Hall was appointed to fill out the unexpired term of the late Bob Caldwell in 2011.

Mary Beth Carozza spoke about being an advocate for several causes in Annapolis, particularly against the “chicken tax.” And while she was still out knocking on a lot of doors, she was still finding she needed to educate voters about the new district setup and the June primary.

Larry Dodd, who’s in the ring for County Council District 3, gave a shortened stump speech highlighting his experience and time at the Board of Education. If elected he woould work to reduce crime and make sure farmer’s rights are protected, along with making sure government lives within its means.

This was important because the next to speak was Dodd’s recently-filed primary opponent, Tom Taylor. After reaching over and shaking Dodd’s hand, Taylor stated his case that the GOP should have a choice and that he was committed to fiscal conservatism and “better government through being smaller.”

County Executive hopeful Bob Culver told those gathered that “this was the best time we have to take Rick (Pollitt, current County Executive) out of office.,,it’s time for a change.” He called on us to give him a strong primary showing.

On behalf of District 37B candidate Christopher Adams, Marc Kilmer said Adams was busy meeting voters, but was also testifying in Annapolis on a number of business bills. Kilmer then went on to discuss his own camapign, with an April fundraiser in the works.

Fellow District 37B hopeful Johnny Mautz Jr. had a surrogate as well in Shawn Jester. Shawn passed along word that we were invited to a Mautz campaign event March 2 in Cambridge, from 4 to 6 p.m.

Dr. Rene Desmarais, who was a little late but is also a District 37B contender, assessed his campaign as “going great” and raising a lot of money. He invited us to an event March 12 in Fruitland. He actually spoke after our featured speaker, who came in about a half-hour late.

But Carl Anderton, Jr. had a good excuse as he was at a meeting involving the two commissions which run their respective sides of Delmar. (Part lies in Maryland and part in Delaware; however, they strive to coordinate efforts as one entity where possible.)

He led off with his meeting with the governor as head of the Maryland Municipal League. catching Martin O’Malley by surprise when he told him about the proposed “chicken tax” and its potentially devastating effect on the Eastern Shore. That led to the O’Malley “read my lips” veto threat a few days later. And when Carl confronted House sponsor Delegate Shane Robinson with the fact that 40% of Eastern Shore jobs have some reliance on the poultry industry, Delegate Robinson backed off, saying that he “just wanted to have a conversation” about the idea.

Yet this played into a significant part of Carl’s campaign: the premise that we have great educational institutions locally but no jobs to keep the graduates here. Even the potential explosive growth at the Wallops Island space complex just across the Virginia line may be squandered by Maryland’s poor business climate. Anderton’s was a “we need to get back to basics” approach, charging that part of the Eastern Shore delegation was working against us. Not only could we not attract business, continued Carl, but we can no longer attract retirees either because of our punitive income and estate taxes. “It’s time for a whole lifestyle change,” concluded Carl.

We finally got around to a little business once Carl finished, most importantly the election of officers. For 2014, they will be almost the same group as last year’s, with one exception.

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

Jester is the newcomer, replacing Marc Kilmer.

We also made and passed motions to secure a table at the Salisbury Festival and potentially one at Pork in the Park as well. There’s also the prospect of needing a headquarters for this fall’s election, and some members are already chomping at the bit to secure a location – unfortunately, we have several of our old ones to choose from because they are still vacant after all this time.

All told, we were through in less than an hour, but we accomplished quite a bit. It’s also worth noting that a man who’s perhaps one of Maryland’s longest-serving elected officials announced his retirement tonight. After close to a half-century on the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee, Blan Harcum will not seek another term. We applauded him for his efforts tonight.

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.

A jam-packed day

August 28, 2010 · Posted in Campaign 2010, Delmarva items · Comments Off on A jam-packed day 

It was a day of hot and cold running politicians.

Obviously a lot of them made the scene at the grand opening and ribbon cutting for the local Republican headquarters, with most making their way to the Wicomico County Republican Club Crab Feast held this afternoon.

But quite a few made it a bipartisan event at the St. Francis carnival held in Salisbury. State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello was all over the event but also seen were Mike and Julie Brewington, County Executive hopeful Joe Ollinger, and fellow County Executive candidate Tom Taylor working the wheel for the church. That was just in the few hours I spent there tonight. Nice carnival, by the way.

I think I’m going to hold the pictures and text for tonight since I plan on attending Chris Lewis’s Sharptown event tomorrow. This way I can make it one nicely wrapped package.

I also have other political items on the back burner which will become posts, so don’t fret. I took last week off to some extent because of personal business, but I think next week I’ll be back to normal.

Pollitt files to retain County Executive seat but draws a rematch

July 2, 2010 · Posted in Wicomico County Examiner · 1 Comment 

It certainly wasn’t unexpected that Rick Pollitt would file to keep his County Executive seat, and today he did. But in a case which Yogi Berra would call “deja vu all over again” his Democratic challenger from 2006 also filed today.

T. Anthony “Tom” Taylor, who only won 23% of the vote in that challenge four years ago, is back to face Pollitt in the September 14th primary. But this time Pollitt has a record for Taylor to criticize, and Tom is going to make this campaign one about, “…financial responsibility and ending the expansive intrusiveness of government.”

(continued on my Examiner.com page…but come back for more analysis.)

One thing about having a blog is having an archive. On September 10, 2006, just before the primary, I said the following regarding Tom Taylor:

On the other side in his self-described “David vs. Goliath” matchup is Tom Taylor. Taylor is what I would describe as a Reagan Democrat, stressing private property rights, citizen preparedness, and allowing citizens more of an ability to defend themselves as they see fit.

Taylor fits in with Wicomico County in many ways. Our county is one where the Democrats lead in voter registration, but where the Democrat party has not had a gubernatorial or Presidential candidate carry the county since William Donald Schaefer in 1986. Essentially, it’s a conservative hotbed where voter registration means less than it does in most places.

(snip)

Wicomico County, based on its overall voting record in races for executive positions and its overwhelming approval of the revenue cap just two years ago, is no place for a “taxer and spender.” Because he provides an insurance policy against government overwhelming the masses in Wicomico County, I’m urging our county’s Democrats to follow the age-old example and let David slay Goliath. Tom Taylor is your best pick for County Executive.

That still rings true today because, quite honestly, we needed a belt-tightener when times were good to make the bad times easier to work through. Certainly Wicomico County did set some money aside, but as we see by the example of the man Pollitt is local campaign chair for (Martin O’Malley) no wallet is truly safe with a Democrat like Pollitt or O’Malley in charge.

It should be an interesting campaign.

Pollitt warms up the local campaign

You wouldn’t expect Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt to be a “one-and-done” termer if he could help it, so this news is not unexpected. From Progressive Delmarva:

Rick Pollitt will kick off his re-election effort to return as Wicomico County Executive with a fundraising dinner this Saturday.

The beef and dumplings dinner will cost $30 a ticket at the Pittsville Fire Hall from 5 p.m.- 8 p.m. Entertainment will be provided by Mat Creamer. Tickets are available at the door.

Rick has started a Facebook page, a Twitter profile, and a website with donations accepted by PayPal.

That scant description by “Duck Around” (who I presume is one of Pollitt’s 80 or so Facebook fans, since two have the surname “Duck”) is pretty much the whole post, and there’s little to Pollitt’s website yet either. It’s a shame, because I’d love to see what Rick thinks are the issues facing Wicomico County and what he’s done to recommend a second term.

However, if any Republicans are seeking the seat they are keeping their cards close to the vest. (Then again, Pollitt was first to file in 2006 and it was right about this time on the calendar.) Conventional wisdom holds that the leading contenders to make such an announcement would be County Councilmen John Cannon or Joe Holloway, but as I recall none of the three main GOP contenders last time came from an elected background (nor did Pollitt, as it turns out.) We could see a local business leader step into the ring once again, on either side.

Depending on your perspective, it’s either fortunate or unfortunate that I’ve been through this rodeo once before and my archives go back beyond the 2006 election. Here’s some golden oldies where Pollitt spoke during that campaign, like the NAACP forum, the Pittsville forum, and his response to my analysis. As an added bonus, I have an overview of the 2006 CE race and its key issues, and how he did his initial budget. Maybe if he’d said “no” a little more during the fat times the lean times would have been easier to deal with – in other words, a little “proven leadership” would have gone a long way.

But we can change the leader, and perhaps this November is a good time to do so.  (Or even September – wonder if Tom Taylor will run again?)

Wicomico County can do better. Being first to hold the County Executive’s seat is certainly an honor but it’s not a license to remain there for life.

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