Wicomico County races: a closer look at finances

September 30, 2018 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2018, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Wicomico County races: a closer look at finances 

Earlier this month I took a look at the financial situation of the various state candidates in Districts 37 and 38, so now I’m going to narrow the focus down to Wicomico County, which has a number of interesting contested races going on – although only a few have much money involved to speak of. No six-figure war chests here.

I’ll begin at the top with the County Executive race, where Bob Culver has an interesting split going on:

  • 49 donations from individuals in county for $5,910
  • 9 donations from individuals outside of county for $1,175
  • 13 donations from businesses in area for $2,300
  • 4 donations from businesses outside of area for $6,700
  • 2 donations from PACs and other committees for $600
  • Average donation: $216.69
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $15,398.33

Because of the 2 large donations from Comcast (considered a business outside the area) totaling $4,000, Bob’s numbers are skewed: 49.2% of his money came from inside the area, with a hefty 47.2% coming from outside the area and just 3.6% from PACs and other committees. Out of the 96.4% coming from individuals and businesses, 42.5% was out of individual pockets and 53.9% was from businesses – again, the Comcast donations make up almost 1/4 of Bob’s total take.

Now let’s look at the “independent” challenger Jack Heath:

  • 68 donations from individuals in county for $14,825.05
  • 10 donations from individuals outside of county for $1,950
  • 8 donations from businesses in area for $1,771.76
  • No donations from businesses outside of area
  • No donations from PACs and other committees
  • Average donation: $215.66
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $8,897.41

For Jack, 89.5% of his money came from inside the area and 10.5% from outside. Similarly, the heavy preponderance of contributions are from individuals: 90.4% compared to 9.6% from businesses. Heath has raised more money than Culver but his burn rate is faster, too.

Democratic County Executive candidate John Hamilton has filed only ALCEs since opening his campaign, meaning he has raised and/or spent less than $1,000. He’s the first of many candidates who can claim that route, as you’ll see moving forward.

Regarding the quotes around “independent” for Heath: that lack of movement from the elected Democrat has prompted at least one recently-elected member of their Central Committee (who’s also the president of the Wicomico Democratic Club) to resign from the DCC so he and the club could back Heath, while others on the Wicomico DCC (who presumably are club members, too) are more tacit in their support for Jack.

It’s much simpler when it comes to other county-wide races. I’ll hold off on the County Council and school board for the moment to look at the two single-victor races for State’s Attorney and Clerk of the Circuit Court. The two other countywide positions (Register of Wills Karen Lemon and Sheriff Mike Lewis) feature unopposed candidates who have regularly filed ALCEs – Lemon’s streak goes back to 2010.

The State’s Attorney race has the current appointee, Republican Jamie Dykes, running for a full term. Her campaign so far:

  • 80 donations from individuals in county for $13,388.25
  • 6 donations from an individual outside of county for $1,000
  • 11 donations from businesses in area for $4,065.47
  • No donations from businesses outside of area
  • No donations from PACs and other committees
  • Average donation: $189.63
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $6,087.33

Jamie received 94.6% of her money from inside the county and 5.4% from outside. Individuals also chipped in the most by far: 77.9% compared to 22.1% from businesses.

Conversely. Democrat Seth Mitchell, who previously ran for the post in 2010, has ceded the financial field to Dykes thus far: Mitchell has filed nothing but ALCEs in his run to date.

The fight has been joined on both sides for the Clerk of Court race, an open seat thanks to the retirement of longtime Clerk Mark Bowen.

For Republican Chris Welch:

  • 47 donations from individuals in county for $4,255
  • 10 donations from individuals outside of county for $1,030
  • 7 donations from businesses in area for $1,566
  • 2 donations from businesses outside of area for $408
  • No donations from PACs and other committees
  • Average donation: $109.98
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $4,643.05 – with a $40 loan outstanding.

For Welch, 80.2% of his money came from within Wicomico County and 19.8% from outside; meanwhile, 72.8% of donations came from individuals and 27.2% from businesses – much of that business income was in-kind donations for a raffle Welch must have had.

Turning to Democrat James “Bo” McAllister, he has a very unusual setup:

  • 25 donations from individuals in county for $2,865
  • 48 donations from individuals outside of county for $7,367.11
  • 4 donations from businesses in area for $600
  • 1 donations from a business outside of area for $500
  • No donations from PACs and other committees
  • Average donation: $100.86
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $3,268.97, but with loans for $10,190.07 outstanding.

Not only is McAllister heavily in debt, he really has one major benefactor: the Robins family in Ocean City. (Chris Robins is his treasurer.) Between standard donations and in-kind offering, the Robinses have contributed $6,333.91, or nearly 56% of everything taken in. It appears that most of Bo’s early campaigning came out of their pocket, but with a family member as treasurer that seems to be a little cozy.

Now that I have those countywide races out of the way, I’ll shift gears to County Council and begin with the two at-large seats.

As the lone incumbent Republican John Cannon is first up, but he hasn’t been very busy:

  • 2 donations from individuals in county for $350
  • No donations from individuals outside of county
  • 3 donations from businesses in area for $251.68 ($1.68 is interest on the bank account.)
  • No donations from a business outside of area
  • 1 donation from a PAC for $2,000
  • Average donation: $433.61
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $10,961.34

The huge Realtor PAC donation completely skewed Cannon’s take: 23.1% of his money came from within Wicomico County and 76.9% from the PAC; because of that bump just 13.5% of donations came from individuals and 9.7% from businesses. (The rounding doesn’t allow it to add up.)

Fellow Republican Julie Brewington is less well off:

  • 8 donations from individuals in county for $1,920.49
  • 1 donation from an individual outside of county for $300
  • No donations from businesses in area
  • No donations from businesses outside of area
  • No donation from PACs
  • Average donation: $246.72
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $809.30, with a $1,000 loan outstanding.

For Julie, 86.5% of her donations came from individuals inside the county and 13.5% from outside, with all of it from individuals.

On the Democrat side, former County Council member Bill McCain has the financial advantage to return:

  • 43 donations from individuals in county for $5,850
  • 1 donation from an individual outside of county for $100
  • No donations from businesses in area
  • No donations from businesses outside of area
  • 1 donation from a PAC for $2,000
  • Average donation: $176.67
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $4,828.89

McCain has had 73.6% of the 74.8% of his take from individuals come from within Wicomico County – the other 25.2% is the donation from the Realtor PAC (the same group that gave to Cannon.)

Lastly is the second Democrat for the at-large County Council position, Jamaad Gould:

  • 16 donations from individuals in county for $952
  • 2 donations from individuals outside of county for $110
  • 1 donation from a business in area for $10
  • No donations from businesses outside of area
  • No donation from a PAC
  • Average donation: $56.42
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $325.85

Jamaad is the first of two sub-$100 average donation candidates, but the only countywide one. Percentage-wise, 89.7% of Gould’s donations come from inside Wicomico County and 99.1% come from individuals. It’s a very local-source campaign.

District races are rather low-key as well. In District 1, Ernest Davis had to survive a primary so he raised money earlier in the cycle.

  • 27 donations from individuals in county for $1,085
  • 1 donation from an individual outside of county for $20
  • 1 donation from a business in area for $250
  • No donations from businesses outside of area
  • No donations from a PAC
  • Average donation: $46.72
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $828.00

District 2 is contested: incumbent Republican Marc Kilmer is running for a second term. His totals were very simple:

  • 2 donations from individuals in county for $450
  • No donations from individuals outside of county
  • No donations from a business in area
  • No donations from businesses outside of area
  • No donations from a PAC
  • Average donation: $225.00
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $2,198.39

That’s one of the healthier on-hand totals around; however, Marc does have a Democrat opponent who is also fundraising in Alexander Scott:

  • 3 donations from individuals in county for $550
  • No donations from individuals outside of county
  • 2 donations from businesses in area for $800
  • No donations from businesses outside of area
  • No donations from a PAC
  • Average donation: $270.00
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $550.00

Both donations from businesses were in-kind, which explains the even $550 balance on Scott’s first report – previously he had filed ALCEs and has reported no spending. (So where did the filing fee come from?) But it works out to 40.7% from individuals and 59.3% from businesses.

The District 3 race features incumbent Republican Larry Dodd, who reported just one donation of $1,000 (from the Realtors PAC) and has an outstanding loan of $100 against a balance of $1,784.91. Some of that will be eaten up by a pending fine to be paid to the state Board of Elections of $160 for late filing – the fourth time this cycle (and third this year) that his campaign has been late. After my experience with Kirkland Hall last time (see updated post here) this is a subject I’m going to get back to for a later post.

However, his Democratic opponent Michele Gregory has filed nothing but ALCEs.

Moving to District 4, which is one of the two open seats on County Council (one at-large is also open) we find Republican Suzanah Cain has these statistics:

  • 24 donations from individuals in county for $1,496.16
  • 11 donations from individuals outside of county for $625
  • No donations from businesses in area
  • 1 donation from a business outside of area for $0.28 (a setup fee for an account)
  • 2 donations from a PAC for $4,000
  • Average donation: $161.09
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $703.01

Like her fellow Republican John Cannon, the huge Realtor PAC donation completely skews Cain’s take: 24.4% of her money came from within Wicomico County, 10.2% from outside the county, and 65.3% from the PAC. All but less that 0.1% of that non-PAC cash is from individuals.

For Democrat Josh Hastings, the story is a lot different:

  • 68 donations from individuals in county for $4,940
  • 27 donations from individuals outside of county for $2,425
  • 1 donations from a business in area for $50
  • No donations from a business outside of area
  • 1 donations from a PAC or other committee for $100
  • Average donation: $77.47
  • Cash on hand (bank account balance) – $1,512.38

Hastings had 66.4% of his donations come from within the county, 32.3% from outside, and 1.3% from the other committee. 98% was offered from individuals, with 1.3% from the one business.

Finally for County Council, you have the unopposed District 5 Republican Joe Holloway. He loaned his campaign $5,000 and still has $4,975 left after the $25 filing fee.

The other partisan office on the ballot is the Orphan’s Court. Not one of the four candidates have filed anything but an ALCE – as expected in a bottom-ballot race for which the Republicans have seldom filled the slots. (All three incumbents are Democrats; however, one lost in the primary.)

Now for the Board of Education. These non-partisan slots are being filled as follows:

  • At-large candidates: 2 from a group including Tyrone Cooper, Don Fitzgerald, Michael Murray, and Talana Watson
  • District 1: Michelle Bradley or Allen Brown
  • District 2: Gene Malone
  • District 3: David Goslee, Sr. or William Turner
  • District 4: David Plotts or Ann Suthowski
  • District 5: John Palmer

Out of that group Cooper, Murray, Malone, Turner, and Palmer reported no contributions. Malone loaned himself $100 so that’s his balance.

Fitzgerald reported $1,400 in contributions (all from the candidate and his treasurer) and has $212.12 on hand.

Watson reported $1,000 in contributions from 2 local businesses and loaned her campaign $1,000 with $909.51 available.

Bradley reported $150 in contributions, one $100 from an individual in the county and $50 from one outside. She still has the $150 left.

Brown reported $860 in contributions, all but 2 of the 13 from individuals within the county and accounting for $660 of the take. He has a balance of $25.

Goslee had the biggest stake among the district aspirants, receiving $1,650 from 4 local individuals – however, $1,100 was from his own personal funds. $586.80 is the largest war chest among the remaining district candidates.

Twelve people have given $706.96 to the Plotts campaign, which includes in-kind donations. (One who donated $25 was from outside the county.) His balance is $187.45.

Suthowski was the second-biggest beneficiary with $1,500 from 13 local individuals (including $400 of her own.) She has $376.46 to play with.

I sort of suspect the real money in the school board race is going to be revealed on the post-election report since the Wicomico County Education Association has yet to be heard from and they’ll certainly have a preferred slate.

That brings this look at finance to a close. But I have a little more research to do after seeing the Kirkland Hall and Larry Dodd debacles. Is it really that hard to do campaign finance reports on a timely basis?

A look ahead: 2015 in Wicomico County

The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s telling that most of the issues I wrote about last year at this time are still with us.

And as I suspected when the pixels were placed in late 2013, we have a majority of “new” Council members and, as it turns out, a new County Executive in Bob Culver. That new broom is already in the process of sweeping clean as the county’s former public information officer was relieved of her duties and the longtime Parks and Recreation director suddenly opted for retirement.

Yet almost all of the issues I alluded to last year are still with us. One thing which may assist the county in moving forward, though, is that the County Executive and County Council will be working from the same political playbook, with elections now a relatively safe four years away. Maintaining the 6-1 Republican majority on County Council will mean that there should be few issues, although one might argue that the support certain GOP members gave to the former Democratic County Executive Rick Pollitt could make some votes interesting.

The three main issues of 2013 could be resolved at the state level, though, with a little help from a Republican governor. For example, a more farmer-friendly tier map which places less land off-limits to development may be doable with a less stringent Maryland Department of Planning, one which grants more leeway to county desires and less emphasis on the despised PlanMaryland guidelines. As a corollary to that, the “rain tax” may not get to Wicomico County, although the city of Salisbury approved its version late last month. This could provide some tension between city and county as those who would want access to city water and sewer may balk at the additional fees.

On the other hand, the quest for an elected school board will certainly get a boost since the three largest obstacles are all out of the way: Rick Pollitt, Norm Conway, and Rudy Cane all have left (or will leave) office. With the resident delegation now boasting two Republicans to one Democrat – all of whom are freshmen – electing a school board may occur as soon as 2016.

In short, the biggest issue facing Wicomico County in 2015 will be what it does (or can do) to arrest a lengthy slide in employment. Year-over-year employment in Wicomico County has declined all 11 months this year and in 18 of the previous 22 months, with the most recent peak in employment being 50,369 in July 2012. (As a rule employment in this county fluctuates by a few thousand each year, peaking in July.) And while the unemployment rate is down for 2014, the number is somewhat deceptive because a lot of that positive change came as a result of a labor force that averages 847 fewer workers while average employment is down 380. Job one of the Culver administration is to make Wicomico County a more business-friendly environment, although having a governor who also wants to decrease red tape at the state level will help. Still, the solution for our needs may be as simple as attracting business out of high-overhead urban areas across the bridge to relocate here.

There is also the prospect of a revitalized downtown Salisbury to help attract new residents. Salisbury will one of six county municipalities to hold elections for municipal office in 2015, with Salisbury’s situation this year being rather unique: a charter change put in place a few years back will allow all municipal offices to be contested in one election this year, rather than the staggered terms common to most towns and cities. They are also adopting a five-district system, the boundaries of which leave three current City Council members in one district. According to the Maryland Manual, the other municipalities holding elections next year are Delmar (3 seats in November), Hebron (3 seats in April), Mardela Springs (2 seats in August), Pittsville (2 seats in November), and Willards (2 seats in May.) Fruitland and Sharptown will have their next elections in 2016.

With the new administration coming in, along with a revamped County Council, it won’t take long to find out whether the management style of Bob Culver will feature the leadership our county needs to recover and compete. Tomorrow I will turn my attention to the state of Maryland, including what role a bevy of new local elected officials might play.

A Wicomico changing of the guard

December 2, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on A Wicomico changing of the guard 

It was an exciting day and a contentious night for the new County Executive and County Council here in Wicomico County. It’s not often the incoming governor pays attention to an event in our fair county.

But the auditorium at Wor-Wic Community College was packed to its 200-plus person capacity to watch our second County Executive (and first such Republican) Bob Culver take the oath of office from Clerk of the Court Mark Bowen.

After the presentation of colors, the Rev. George Patterson delivered an invocation where he prayed that Culver would be “seasoned with wisdom, grace, and humility” as he took this office.

That quickly, since it had to be finished by noon, Culver took the oath flanked by members of his family.

In his remarks which followed, Bob expressed how he was “humbled and honored” by his election, about which he commented that he “wasn’t the only one who wanted to see change.”

His approach was going to be relatively simple, as he believed “good, workable ideas can come from either side,” but at the same time “‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ will no longer be the rule.” On the other hand, change wouldn’t be made for its own sake.

Culver’s brief address, which lasted less than four minutes, concluded with a simple request: “we need your ideas.” He then introduced the Governor-elect.

Along with Culver, Larry Hogan announced “we’re going to roll up our sleeves and get to work.” Hogan was optimistic about Wicomico County and the rest of the Eastern Shore, promising we “will no longer be taken for granted…you’ll have a seat at the table.”

His first order of business affecting us locally was fighting the Phosphorus Management Tool, new regulations he accused Governor O”Malley of “push(ing) at the midnight hour, on his way out the door.” Hogan wasn’t necessarily opposed to regulations on farmers, but believed they needed to be based on science and not “promised to a special interest group.”

Turning to the new County Executive, Hogan said “Bob is truly a salt of the earth kind of guy” and that he “can’t think of anyone more qualified” to grow the local economy based on his business experience than Culver.

The ceremony wasn’t all that long, but it was lunchtime and many of those who came to the swearing-in went to the next building to celebrate with a reception hosted by Culver.

I must say the catering was outstanding, and people generally left in a good, optimistic mood.

But while Culver was “humbled and honored” by his election, the first County Council meeting under his tenure was definitely on the humbling side.

It began, though, with remarks from the outgoing County Council. In particular, retiring Council member Gail Bartkovich called her tenure “an honor, privilege…and tremendous education.” Interestingly enough, all three of the women who served in the 2010-14 term left County Council, leaving a body of seven men.

Stevie Prettyman acknowledged the large crowd “for a change” and thanked the citizens for their trust in her.

And while he wasn’t going anywhere, John Hall lamented the “loss of wisdom and integrity” provided by the outgoing members. Matt Holloway, who was also staying on, noted this edition of Council had accomplished a lot: building a new Bennett Middle School, supplying water to the Morris Mill neighborhood plagued by well contamination, and continually improving its bond ratings.

Similarly, Sheree Sample-Hughes, who was elected to the House of Delegates, thanked the people for “putting their trust in me as a leader.”

But she foreshadowed the discussion to come by expressing her disappointment that West Salisbury Elementary School would not be in the revised bonding program Culver was asking County Council to approve.

After a quick recess to rearrange seats, the new County Council was sworn in.

Returning members Joe Holloway (third from left), Matt Holloway (center), and John Hall (far right) were now joined by Larry Dodd (far left), Marc Kilmer (second from left), John Cannon (third from right), and Ernest Davis (second from right.) Dodd and Cannon have previously served one term apiece on County Council, though, leaving Kilmer and Davis as the two rookies.

Their first order of business was electing a president and vice-president. Since John Cannon and Matt Holloway were the lone nominees for those respective positions, Cannon took over the meeting with Matt Holloway seated next to him.

The other item on the agenda was the controversial reduction in new county debt from the $16.5 million requested by Rick Pollitt to a new $10.9 million total Culver desired, To accomplish this reduction Bob reduced the bonding amount for ongoing construction of Bennett Middle School, and postponed three other projects: work on the final phase of the Westside Collector Road, work on the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, and replacement of West Salisbury Elementary.

Projects which would remain, on the other hand, were Bennett Middle School, the purchase of land for dredge material placement for the Wicomico River, the purchase of the newly renovated State’s Attorney office, and renovations to Perdue Stadium.

Culver explained that the Bennett bond could be safely reduced without endangering progress. He also made the case that improvements to the river channel would allow for continued commerce and safer oil transport (as there is a refinery along the river), the purchase of the State’s Attorney office would save $300,000 annually in rent, and that the Perdue Stadium renovations were at the request of the Orioles and would ensure the team remains in Salisbury.

Joe Holloway commented that taking off the school was “probably a good idea” based on his conversation earlier that day with Larry Hogan, with Kilmer agreeing it was likely a “prudent course.” On the other hand, Larry Dodd was “disappointed” that the West Salisbury bond was removed, and Ernest Davis, who represents that district, criticized the deletion as pushing them to the back burner again.

That sentiment was echoed frequently in the public comments Cannon allowed. Over a dozen citizens stood up to blast the decision to drop the bond funding, many complaining about the deplorable shape the 50-year-old building is in and decrying its lack of air conditioning. (It’s worth pointing out the state denied Wicomico County’s request to address the air conditioning for FY2015 because the amount was too small – see page 173 here. Three other Wicomico County schools were granted funds.)

In the end, though, the vote was 5-1 to approve the revised bonding, with Davis opposed. Larry Dodd had to leave early for a family function.

After that vote, Kilmer expressed the sentiment that he wished he saw as much passion about what happens in the schools as he did about the school building. But in his president’s remarks, Cannon was more optimistic, saying “I see good things for Wicomico County.” He also expressed his appreciation for all that Rick Pollitt did in his eight years at the helm.

But it goes without saying that Culver’s honeymoon wasn’t very long. Several people expressed the belief that our place in line for funding would be lost and we could go another several years before the needs of West Salisbury were addressed. But Culver and County Council wanted to see some of the buildings for themselves to assess the needs. Aside from the question one observer brought up about the maintenance issues related by those testifying on West Salisbury’s behalf, it was a night filled with passion for a school of just 309 students.

Look for more battles as the FY2016 budget begins to take shape next year.

Troubling ethics charges in county race

This letter was sent to me by incoming Central Committee member Dr. Greg Belcher. His concern was an e-mail sent out by Tamara Lee-Brooks, the county’s Public Information Officer, to her county e-mail address list.

**********

Wicomico County residents should be informed about recent events involving the County Executive and his staff.

It has come to my attention that on October 17 the Wicomico County Public Information Officer sent an e-mail message to various persons announcing a joint press conference to be held by Anthony Brown, Rick Pollitt (Brown’s local campaign manager), and the mayor of Salisbury to criticize Brown’s opponent, Larry Hogan. In her e-mail Ms. Lee-Brooks stated that she “was asked to forward” the announcement but did not identify by whom. However, Mr. Pollitt is her superior, in essence if not directly.

It is my understanding that such a communication is a clear violation of the County’s ethics law by Ms. Lee-Brooks, and more significantly the supervisor who ordered it, reasonably assumed to be Mr. Pollitt or another member of his staff. Using public resources (and personnel) for partisan political purposes is strictly prohibited by the law.

Other conduct by Mr. Pollitt and/or members of his staff deserves the voters’ consideration, as well. It has been reported that County vehicles are being used for personal matters, including visiting a local bar and grill. And – in response to Freedom of Information requests – it has been disclosed that Mr. Pollitt has used his County credit card to buy personal groceries on more than one occasion and pay for meals at restaurants. Such conduct is unacceptable, even if Mr. Pollitt promptly reimbursed the County. This, too, is a likely violation of the County’s ethics law.

A complaint is being filed with the County’s Ethics Commission asking for appropriate sanction for matters discussed above. That body should investigate the charges and act appropriately in advance of November 4.

**********

This is the text of the e-mail sent by Lee-Brooks, who added she was “asked to forward for your attention.”

FOR ADVISORY PURPOSES
Friday, October 17, 2014
Contact:
Jerid Kurtz: 443-297-7702
JeridKurtz@AnthonyBrown.com

Press Office: 240-478-6488
Press@AnthonyBrown.com

FRIDAY: Anthony Brown, Rick Pollitt, Jim Ireton to Hold Press Conference on Harm Larry Hogan’s $450 Million Cut to School Construction Would Cause to the Eastern Shore

Hogan’s “Savings Plan” includes a $450 Million Cut to School Construction Funding that Would Threaten Projects – like Bennett Middle School- Throughout the Eastern Shore

Upper Marlboro, MD – On Friday at 11:00 a.m., Lt. Governor Anthony Brown, Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt, and Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton will hold a press conference to discuss the harm that Republican Larry Hogan’s $450 million cut to school construction would have on the Eastern Shore.

These cuts are contained in Hogan’s so-called savings plan — a plan whose numbers the Baltimore Sun noted “don’t add up.”

Hogan’s proposed $450 million cut to school construction could put projects like the construction of Bennett Middle School out of reach for many communities along the Eastern Shore. For the next four years, counties across the Eastern Shore have requested millions in state funding for repairs and renovations in order to modernize their classrooms and deal with overcrowding. But school construction cuts could put all of these local projects at risk.

What:
Press Conference to discuss the harm Larry Hogan’s $450 million cut to school construction would cause to the Eastern Shore’s public schools.

When:
Friday, October 17th at 11:00 a.m.

Where:
Outside of Bennett Middle School
523 South Division Street, Fruitland, MD
Click here for a map.

It’s worth pointing out that the State Ethics Commission has already deemed this letter improper, but for some strange reason none of the local media is very interested in that fact.

In response, county Republican Party Chairman Dave Parker has today asked the county attorney to investigate:

I am deeply concerned that recent actions by elected and appointed Wicomico County officials were in direct violation of §37, the Wicomico County Ethics Law – and likely also the Maryland Ethics law.

The Brown/Ulman gubernatorial campaign recently scheduled a “press conference” in Salisbury claiming “to discuss” Hogan’s alleged plan to make a $450 million cut to school construction on the Eastern Shore. That alleged cut is clearly part of the political dialog which typically occurs during campaigns for office, and as such is clearly more a scare tactic than a reliable statement of fact. At best it is a partisan political disagreement.

However, as the attached email indicates, Tamara Lee-Brooks, the Wicomico Public Information Officer, honored a request (from an unnamed source) to forward the announcement of Brown’s press conference, and Matt Creamer, the Wicomico County Council Administrator, further forwarded this request (as a media advisory). Members of the media consequently reported this so-called press conference, apparently actually attended by Brown. Regardless of the number of individuals to whom this request was forwarded, the County time and other County resources consumed are what are what I believe were unethical.

As I understand the law, because these were obviously partisan political actions in support of the Brown/Ulman campaign, using County Offices, County email, and County employee time to forward Brown’s announcement were are all violations of ethics laws. Because County Executive Rick Pollitt is not only ultimately responsible for supervising Tamara Lee-Brooks but because he also serves as Brown’s local campaign manager, an investigation will likely identify others who used County resources to promote the Brown/Ulman campaign.

Accordingly, with this letter I am, in accordance with instructions I received from your office by telephone, herewith submitting to you a formal ethics complaint for you to deliver to the Wicomico County Ethics Commission for their action. Moreover, I’m requesting that the Commission first thoroughly investigate, then determine and publicly identify and announce both what ethical violations have taken place (and by whom) and what corrective measures will be taken to prevent similar violations in the future.

On the other hand, if overt partisan political activity using County time and resources is not a violation of law, then please so inform me, in writing, that this is the case, citing the appropriate legal authorities.

It’s highly unlikely at this late date that any resolution will occur before Tuesday, but this is just another example of shoddy ethics in Wicomico County government.

Yet these scare tactics from local and state Democrats – in lieu of a record of success from nominee and Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown – are par for the course. Sensible voters know Bennett Middle School will be finished and other projects will probably get their funding. It’s worth pointing out as well that there may be some cost savings on individual projects which could make a big difference that Larry Hogan could – and should – get behind, such as eliminating the need to comply with LEED Silver standards and prevailing wage for school construction (as Ohio did some years ago.)

Of course, the real change which should be made in Maryland education creates a prospect that scares the living bejeezus out of Maryland Democrats and their wholly owned subsidiary, the Maryland State Education Association. That would be a program of money following the child regardless of schooling situation, forcing public schools to compete on a level playing field with charter, for-profit, and faith-based educational institutions as well as making homeschooling more affordable.

So it’s not a surprise that Democrats circle the wagons around school construction because it’s not the buildings that are being threatened, it’s the power structure.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices

October 20, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, Radical Green, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 1: Wicomico County offices 

As I noted the other day when I broached the subject, more than a dozen candidates shared the stage for a forum sponsored in part by the Coastal Association of Realtors and the Salisbury Independent newspaper. In this first part, I’ll discuss some of what the county candidates said.

First, the contenders:

For County Executive, two-term incumbent Rick Pollitt faced off with challenger County Councilman Bob Culver. Pollitt was elected in 2006 as Wicomico County’s first County Executive and narrowly won re-election over Republican Joe Ollinger in 2010. Bob Culver lost in a three-way Republican primary in 2006 for County Executive to eventual nominee Ron Alessi and B.J. Corbin before rebounding to win an at-large County Council seat in 2010.

Culver’s seat is being sought by two who join Republican Matt Holloway in attempting to win one of the two at-large County Council posts. Holloway was elected to County Council in the same 2010 election that brought Culver back; ironically those seats opened up because the two incumbents decided not to continue. One of those two was John Cannon, who unsuccessfully ran for the General Assembly in 2010 after one term on the County Council from 2006-10. Now John seeks a return after a four-year hiatus, noting that being a Council member was his “lifeblood.”

The lone Democrat seeking one of the two at-large seats is current Salisbury City Council member Laura Mitchell. Mitchell has served on the City Council since being elected in 2011.

(While there are 7 contenders for the five district Council seats, the forum only covered the pair of countywide posts.)

In the County Executive race, the two contenders disagree on a lot but agree that they would have “stark contrasts” in their approaches to governing. For example, when asked what the most pressing issue was, Culver was blunt: it was the loss of jobs over the last 18 months. (In the July 2013-July 2014 period, BLS statistics show Wicomico County lost 429 jobs as its labor force fell by 649.)

On the other hand, Pollitt asserted we were still in a recession and pleaded that “we have to rebuild our community.” He went on to describe how the needed to “leverage assets” like Wallops Island, Virginia, the port of Salisbury, and the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development organization. It was part of a required overall strategy for the “new normal,” added Pollitt.

When it came to whether additional tax increases would be required, Pollitt pointed out that the property tax rates had to increase just to stay even – four cents of the five cent increase this year simply brought us back to constant yield, with the other penny being allowed under the revenue cap. Four of of six Republicans voted for this tax increase, which was the “only responsible thing” to do.

Culver wasn’t one of those Republicans, though. He contended the county needed to go back to zero-based budgeting and trim the fat one step at a time. “Right now the time is not for a tax increase,” said Bob. “We have to do it from a business aspect.”

Another bone of contention came in the question about how best to assist realtors. Culver argued that dropping the county’s impact fee had resulted in 54 new homes being built in Wicomico County, and pointed out that there was only 16% of the county’s land mass which could be developed and we had just 3 percent to go.

Pollitt shot back that the impact fee change was part of the overall budget Culver opposed, restated that government needs to provide services and reminded us that five of the seven Council members had been correct in voting for the budget.

Rick closed with a familiar theme of “building community,” noting as well his role as the Maryland Rural Counties Coalition legislative chair and in the Clean Chesapeake Coalition. The more plain-spoken Culver repeated his assertion that “I think Wicomico County government is broken.”

If you look at it stylistically, Pollitt is a sharper debater. But the approach he’s taken over the last few years has been pragmatic by circumstance rather than by choice. And since the zero-based budgeting Pollitt did as city manager of Fruitland and promised early on doesn’t appear to be the case now – because it’s a campaign issue – and he whined early on in his tenure about the voter-installed revenue cap,  one wonders what the budget and tax rate would be if not for the recession.

Rick Pollitt often talks about what he calls “quality of life” issues. But it has to be asked whether our quality of life is better when job numbers are going the wrong way.

The County Council members were asked a different set of questions. One of them was on how to take the good things happening in downtown Salisbury and jump start the area outside the metro core and the other dealt with thoughts on the comprehensive plan.

John Cannon got first shot at the former question, and he opened by praising the “refreshing” leadership of Salisbury City Council president Jake Day. But he believed the county had the responsibility to create its own environment for growth, and Cannon wanted to bring together the major players on a quarterly basis.

As far as tier maps went, John believed it was an argument of local vs. state control and was hoping for relief with the new administration, presumably a Larry Hogan one. He also advocated for enhanced transfer of development rights and perhaps even a wastewater treatment authority. He also noted that he had pushed for a reduction in impact fees six years ago when he was on County Council.

Matt Holloway outlined some of the accomplishments the county has achieved since he came on board: decoupling the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate, phasing out the inventory tax, and making the manufacturer’s tax exemption automatic. He suggested a focus on public relations and enhancing our one-man economic development team.

Holloway also believed the comprehensive plan needed a “fresh set of eyes” with his goal being that of not impacting property values. But Matt cautioned that the state “has the trump card” under the law. They could help us with our septic issues, however.

Because she is on City Council, the initial question was right in Laura Mitchell’s wheelhouse: “That is why I’m running.” She wanted to translate Salisbury’s excitement to the county and talk about the positive things. She also thought the idea of an EDU bank, which allocates unused sewage capacity that developers donate back to the city, had merit on a countywide level.

Unfortunately, while it is “convoluted, to say the least,” Mitchell dropped the ball on even a rudimentary understanding of the tier maps. She advocated for infill development and sustainable growth, while addressing the double taxation and foreclosure issues in response to the realtors’ question.

Mitchell stressed her accounting background and budgeting experience as the key reasons to vote for her, portraying herself as sort of a budget nerd. But I found it interesting that the city budget had increased for three years in a row before finally declining this year. It’s still almost 7% higher than it was in FY2011, when she won election. (The first budget she would have approved would have been FY2012.)

And while you can’t expect expertise on every issue, her befuddlement on the tier maps was a bad sign.

It’s interesting that tier maps are an issue in this county, which now labors under the state’s default position that lots of any size can’t be subdivided into more than seven lots. Unfortunately, no county has found someone aggrieved enough by this terrible law that they could have standing to sue for the law’s nullification. (It’s doubtful the Democrats in the General Assembly would consider a repeal such as that tried in 2013.) Much as I’d love to force the state to pound sand, I’m not an injured party.

But there can be steps taken in the right direction. If we must have a tier map, the amount of land placed off-limits to development should be minimized because to do otherwise is an infringement on private property rights.

And while downtown development is indeed encouraging, the best way to replicate it isn’t to precisely duplicate it. While entertainment districts are nice, we need more industrial districts, more transportation hubs, and more encouragement of overall development. We shouldn’t shackle ourselves to one approach, either – if Chesapeake Shipbuilding, which isn’t exactly a glamorous company but a useful one that actually is seeking tradesmen, needs something to create another 150 jobs, that should take priority over yet another entertainment venue that may create 20 or 30.

Part 2 tomorrow will look at District 37 races.

WCRC meeting – July 2014

July 28, 2014 · Posted in All politics is local, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off on WCRC meeting – July 2014 

We don’t always hold a meeting in July, but since it is an election year and we like to give candidates a chance to update us on their platform, the Wicomico County Republican Club heard from the guy who predicted “I’m going to be your next County Executive.”

Obviously the voters will have their say on this in November, but Bob Culver laid out a compelling case for himself once we got through the usual business of the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and introduction of distinguished guests. The latter list was somewhat shorter now that the primary is over. We also heard the Treasurer’s report and got a quick update from our President Jackie Wellfonder.

Welffonder revealed that “we do have a headquarters, finally.” Once the building is turned over for our use and a few minor modifications made in the way of utilities, we should be up and running soon. It’s the former Mister Paul’s Legacy on North Salisbury Boulevard.

She also introduced the man who would be running the headquarters, David Warren. In this cycle he’s done work for the Ron George and David Brinkley campaigns, but instead of taking up an offer to go back to the Midwest (he worked for the RNC in Youngstown, Ohio in the 2012 election and had an offer to go work in Michigan this time) he came here because “I view this as a huge opportunity…(District) 38 is a very winnable district.” He was also complementary to Jackie, citing her as “one of the reasons I stayed.”

Wellfonder, for her part, called Warren “an asset to us because of his experience.”

We then turned the meeting over to Culver, who vowed to “bring back a government you can trust…government needs to work for you.”

If elected, his missions would be to sustain and diversify our local economy, improve workforce training and skills while recruiting within Maryland for new employers, and insuring the proper infrastructure – not just physical infrastructure, but including the environment and education as well. He also noted that our community is judged by how they take care of the elderly and less fortunate. And, as music to my ears, he wanted County Council to send him a proposal for an elected school board he could sign on to.

But while he won’t necessarily clean house, he did want to do things differently in various county departments. He would work more closely with Council on the budget, though, and try to change the “sense of entitlement” in certain quarters of government. Culver also promised to work toward a term limit for County Executive, believing two terms was plenty.

In Dave Parker’s absence, I read a Central Committee report he submitted. It talked at length about the upcoming Allen West Patriot’s Dinner on September 27, although we were also trying to work with the state on a Super Saturday the week before or after.

With fewer candidates because the primary weeded many of them out, we only had a few updates. A common theme was their door-knocking as most were getting out in the community. We heard from Circuit Court Judge candidate M.J. Caldwell, County Councilman Joe Holloway from District 5, County Council District 2 hopeful Marc Kilmer, County Council District 3 candidate Larry Dodd, and Delmar Mayor and Delegate aspirant Carl Anderton, Jr.

Another concern raised by some was how some opponents will get outside financial support, even on a more local level.

Tom Taylor brought up that candidates can take advantage of PAC-14, the local cable access channel, and discuss issues with host Phil Tilghman.

Shawn Jester mentioned some recent events Andy Harris was involved in, including the District of Columbia marijuana controversy and the Eastern Shore boycott that “fizzled out” as well as the possibility of housing illegal aliens in Westminster, which won’t happen. Harris also sponsored a well-attended event in Worcester County dealing with emergency preparedness.

Plans for the Crab Feast were moving along, but more volunteers were sought, said Joe Ollinger. The event will be held September 6 at Schumaker Pond.

With that and the reminder we next meet August 25, we broke into our usual post-game kibitzing. Most of the people stick around for that, so when you consider we have a pre-event social time at Cellar Door Tavern and linger for awhile afterward, it makes for a full evening. Those who are Wicomico County Republicans and want to get engaged in the local political scene should make a Monday night of it next time.

2014 Wicomico County NAACP forum draws county candidates (part 1)

Last night the Wicomico County chapter of the NAACP held a candidate forum in the historical Chipman Cultural Center near downtown Salisbury. I snapped this photo last night for Facebook and as you can see it was in close quarters.

Attendance was good at the NAACP forum.

The event featured most of those running for County Executive and the seven County Council seats, with a handful of exceptions I’ll note in my second part. What I’ve decided to do in part 1 is summarize what each of the County Executive candidates said, with a little bit of opinion as needed.

As has normally been the case, Orville Penn was last night’s moderator and he asked questions with an eye toward the minority perspective – in one case, asking the County Executive candidates for a specific commitment to placing minorities in paid policy positions.

The evening began, though, with remarks and an invocation from local NAACP leader Mary Ashanti, who reminded us that the questions we submitted from the audience “won’t offend or insult the candidates.” This was an issue during last year’s municipal primary forum.

We heard from the County Executive candidates first, with both Bob Culver and incumbent Rick Pollitt there to answer questions. Since Culver spoke first, I’ll begin with him.

Culver, who currently serves on County Council in an at-large position and ran unsuccessfully for County Executive in 2006, make his case quite simply: “I feel like the county is (going in) the wrong direction.” While we didn’t need to replicate the successes of other counties, we did have two necessary items on the to-do list: maintain our status as the #1 agricultural county in the state and create jobs. “Teach young people how to work,” said Culver.

So when he was pressed about hiring minorities, Culver noted there had to be some effort on their part as well. Getting an education and showing a “desire to get ahead” were key. “Everybody should be valued on their knowledge and education,” Culver added.

Crime was an issue as well. Bob seemed to assign more blame to the victim of a recent shooting involving a Maryland State Police officer in Delmar, calling it “truly a shame,” but noting “you don’t go to a state police barracks with marijuana in your car.” He also conceded there will be bad people and “we can’t cure all the ills in the world,” even though we have an outstanding sheriff and State’s Attorney.

Turning to the subject of a recent audit of our Board of Education, Bob took Pollitt’s decription of it as “troubling” and added “troubling is not the right word for it.” Culver stated those who read the audit “will be appalled.” He advocated giving the Board no more than required for maintenance of effort until they managed their finances properly, but also wanted the children to be as technologically advanced as possible.

“We’ve got to get out and get jobs.” That was Bob’s initial answer to the question on the County Executive’s role in job creation. That gave Culver the opening to discuss his small business experience. He also stressed teaching kids how to work – perhaps in a WPA-style program – but he added the county is not here to create jobs, only to be an enabler in job creation.

Incumbent Rick Pollitt is running for a third term as the county’s first (and thus far only) County Executive. He pointed out the difference between him and Culver would be in their respective approaches. His was one of stressing relationships.

But since the office was created in 2006, the county has seen a severe recession which has “redefined the rules” and created “a new normal.” We needed to get out of the “silo mentality” and leverage other areas of government to succeed.

As far as minority recruitment, Pollitt stated his goal all along has been to have government “reflect the face of the county.” But it wasn’t just diversity in racial or gender terms, but also in geography as well. “We didn’t want to have everything in Wicomico County run by old white men who live in Salisbury,” said Rick. Pollitt added that he tries to recruit diversely, including in outlets tailored to minority readership, But in the most recent major opening for the Department of Public Works, no minorities applied. And when the question was continued to elicit a specific commitment, Pollitt pointed out “experience shows the pool can be shallow.”

On the whole, though, Rick was willing to create a context where diversity is encouraged.

When it came to crime, the current executive made the case that we have to deal with the root causes. We are not among Maryland’s wealthy counties, he added. One thing he was working on, though, was the rate of recidivism, trying to find “those people that could be saved.” There he was consulting with activist Ron Pagano, who you will hear from in Part 2 as a candidate for County Council in District 5.

As I stated before, Pollitt found the Board of Education audit “troubling,” but also believed many of the expenses were legitimate. “Clearly there needs to be a tightening up of the accounting,” conceded Rick. Pollitt added that an upcoming efficiency study report from the Sage Policy Group would be of great assistance in creating the FY2015 budget.

On job creation, though, Rick believed “it’s something we’ve got a pretty good record on.” He also thought that an “upside” of going through the recession is that “it’s given us time to step back and take a good hard look at who we are and who we want to be.” But the way out of the doldrums is through economic development.

Some of his successes in creating a positive business environment, though, have been to decouple the personal property tax rate from the real property tax rate so that businesses have saved money on their tax bills, eliminating the inventory tax over a five-year period, and making a manufaturer’s tax exemption automatic. “We are putting together the climate” for businesses to succeed, opined Rick.

In their closing statements, the two candidates played off each other, since they have known one another since the seventh grade.

Culver noted that while he disagreed with the means, he also thought he and Pollitt had several points of agreement, too. He pledged to help Wicomico County grow and expand it to the next generation.

Pollitt thanked Culver for generating more interest in the office, and noted he was approaching this like a job application. Philosophically, Pollitt said “my basic pattern is gettting people engaged.” He reminded those in attendance that his job was the result of people losing confidence in their leadership and seeking a new alternative. It wasn’t just “rights” as citizens, though, but there were duties and obligations incumbent upon us as well to be involved. Finally, Rick saw the seeking of “collaborative dialogue” as the key difference between himself and Culver.

Since I have a post already set for tomorrow, I will look at the County Council hopefuls on Sunday.

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.

Wicomico County could be going through changes

I mentioned the other day that there were proposed changes in the Wicomico County charter, and now I’ve had an opportunity to digest these a little bit. Many are perfunctory, but there are also some which may be controversial as well.

There are a number of changes being proposed to the charter, but some of the more provocative ones are:

  • Establishing special elections for long-term vacancies within County Council or the County Executive. This was probably a reaction to the untimely death of the late District 4 Council member Bob Caldwell, who died less than a year into his term. An appointee approved by our Central Committee and selected by County Council, John Hall, will serve the last three years.
  • Establishing a two-term limit on the County Executive. Notably, that prohibition would not extend to County Council. From what I’ve been told, this two-term limit on the county’s leader was considered as part of the original Charter change that created the County Executive position a decade ago but the Democratic County Council majority at the time balked at the inclusion of that language. It’s worthy of note that none of those four Democrats chose to run again in 2006, the election where the first County Executive was selected and the Council was stripped of its executive powers over Wicomico County.
  • Changing the number of referendum signatures required from 15% of the total number of registered voters in the county to 15% of county voters who cast ballots in the previous Presidential election. Using the active voters from October, 2008 and local results from that year’s Presidential election as a base it would reduce the number of signatures required from 7,934 to 6,278 – still a significant number. Similarly, a public-inspired change to the Charter goes from needing signatures from 20% of all registered voters (or 10,000, whichever is fewer) to 20% of participating voters, with a maximum requirement of 10,000. The 20% of participating threshold would reduce the number of signatures required to 8,371 based on 2008 numbers.
  • Giving the County Council a say on the removal of the County Attorney via a 2/3 vote (which in Wicomico County would be a 5-2 vote assuming all seven members are present.) This was probably inspired by the controversy in the city of Salisbury over their city attorney.

In discussing this with Marc Kilmer, a member of the committee who gave me the heads-up on the situation, it’s not clear just how these items would be presented should they pass muster with County Council.

But given the fact that state voters will already be facing six (and perhaps seven) ballot issues this fall, the number of local questions should probably be kept to a minimum. If they were to pass the first three issues I spell out and write the questions in such a way that these subjects be put together, with special elections for County positions as one question, term limits on the County Executive – and I would be inclined to suggest the same for County Council – as a second question, and the referendum changes as a third, I think we could call it a day.

Sure, there are other changes which probably should be made but many of them are more technical and there’s no reason we can’t come back in 2014 to make those corrections. There’s no restriction on when items supported by the Charter Review Committee can be placed before voters because, with five affirmative votes, County Council can bring those up at any time. I might even be convinced that putting off the term limits question to 2014, when we can add County Council to the roster of offices under term limits and vote in politicians who would be subject thereto, would be the way to go.

Of course we have no way of knowing what the 2014 ballot will look like at a state referendum level because there are almost always state amendments placed before voters, and if the Democratic majority in Annapolis doesn’t learn the lesson they are hopefully taught this time we may see a half-dozen or more statewide questions once again. But knowing that there are already a number of weighty issues before the voters in Wicomico County, it may be smart to parcel out changes among several election cycles and address the most important ones now. To me, making sure vacancies are filled by the people and easing referendum requirements are top priorities, while term limits can go on the back burner.

But the Charter Review Committee has done its job, and now it’s up to the people to speak. The next chance comes Tuesday evening at the County Council meeting, but there’s also e-mail and voice communications as well. This post is my take on what should be done but I’m sure readers have theirs, too.

Why add to the debt?

December 27, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Business and industry, Delmarva items, Education, Maryland Politics, Ohio politics, Politics · Comments Off on Why add to the debt? 

Obviously this post I cite is an oversimplification of the educational approach needed for many children, but I thought it was appropriate to point this out given the fact a small group of parents – backed by an all-powerful school board and sympathetic County Executive and newspaper – are putting big-time pressure on our County Council to approve the debt necessary to build a new middle school.

But Richard F. Miniter, a writer posting on the American Thinker website, makes the case that education can be as simple as applying a little discipline and effort, given the vast library now available to anyone who has an e-reader and cares enough about their child to make sure they learn. And there is a time savings, as Miniter writes:

It also sums down to a little block of time because without having to get ready for the school bus; the bus ride; dispersing to classroom; disciplinary issues in classrooms; having to raise your hand to go to the bathroom; noisy, chaotic hallways scenes every fifty minutes; noisy, chaotic lunch periods; announcements; fire drills; lectures about bullying, respecting alternative lifestyles, or strangers; then preparing for the bus ride home, followed by homework, one can do a better job with a child in two hours than a traditional school classroom setting can in eight.

Now extrapolate that to the building itself. If one can learn in the small space of time allotted to learning at home, it can also be assumed that learning can be achieved in a regular school building, regardless of the age.

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Wicomico County Council: the Holloway & Holloway show

I’m told the fix was in from the start. But last night Wicomico County Council added its newest member in District 4’s John Hall and reorganized. Out was two-year County Council President Gail Bartkovich of District 3 and in was former Council Vice-President Joe Holloway of District 5. He was replaced by at-large member Matt Holloway.

And while Joe Holloway announced the decision was by unanimous consent, the lone Democrat on the body chose to wait until Council comments to express her dissent. Maybe Joe didn’t hear her in the hubbub, but I don’t think Sheree Sample-Hughes needed to take up an attitude, just politely state that for the record the vote was not unanimous.

But this post is more about the direction I’d like to see the County Council take us in.

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Taking a waiver off the table

May 23, 2011 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off on Taking a waiver off the table 

To me, this is a confusing request Rick Pollitt has made. In a letter released today, he told the state to not bother giving Wicomico County a Maintenance of Effort waiver for the next budget year:

Wicomico County Executive Richard M. Pollitt, Jr., announced today that he has notified the Maryland State Board of Education that he is withdrawing the county’s application for a waiver of the Maintenance of Effort (M.O.E.) standard for funding public education for Fiscal Year 2012. Pollitt was to lead a Wicomico County delegation to Baltimore to appeal to the State Board for a waiver on May 24, but the withdrawal negates that presentation. Wicomico is the last of the six counties that initially filed for the waiver to take this action.

In a letter to the State Board, Pollitt said, “Withdrawal of the requested waiver does not indicate that Wicomico County will reach the M.O.E. level of funding in the next fiscal year. In fact, it will not.”

Under normal circumstances, if a county funds its local school system to the level designated as Maintenance of Effort, it receives millions of dollars in new State aid. However, as a reflection of the current state of the economy, no additional State funds are at risk next year for failure to meet M.O.E.

Pollitt noted that there is currently a legal challenge involving the Montgomery County Board of Education and their county government where the Board claims that M.O.E. is mandatory upon the counties and the only way to avoid funding M.O.E. is through the waiver process. “We, along with the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), are watching that case with a great deal of concern as a ruling favorable to the Montgomery Board could be devastating to county fiscal policy. I believe the major risk to failing M.O.E. is the loss of additional State money. With no new money at stake, the exercise is moot.”

Recently, the Wicomico County Board of Education, by a tie vote, declined to endorse the county’s application for the waiver. Pollitt noted without the support of the local educational community, gaining the waiver would have been unlikely. Pollitt was successful in receiving a waiver last year but then had the support of the local school system.

Pollitt concluded, “providing adequate funding for the superior education of our young people is the most serious challenge we face. While I deeply believe that most Maryland jurisdictions have a strong commitment to do the right thing for our children; the precarious state of the economy, further exacerbated by an antiquated system of public school funding, points to a troubled future for local school funding and I have called on the State Board of Education to join with MACo, local boards of education and the Maryland General Assembly to work vigorously to develop a better plan for funding public schools.”

I suppose I can see the point if the question is moot, but it can’t be determined whether the point is moot until the court decides the Montgomery County case, can it? Perhaps leaving the request in may have been a better move. Sure, there’s no state money at stake – for now.

But more interesting to me is the tie vote at the Board of Education. Since there are seven members of the board, my question is who abstained, who voted to seek the waiver, and who voted against the deal. All I know is that it was a 3-3-1 split.

So apparently our ball is in the court of the court deciding the Montgomery County case. If things don’t go Wicomico’s way we may have another fiscal emergency come up later this year as the county scrambles to cut other areas to feed the beast that is our Board of Education.

Update: I’m told the three “no” votes were Don Fitzgerald, Ron Willey, and Michelle Wright, with Robin Holloway abstaining.

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