Hostility to cuts

It’s been a little while, but the political hijinks of Cecil County return to my site via a dispatch I received from Bob Willick and their Campaign for Liberty chapter. The purpose of the dispatch was to relay the open hostility from a couple members of their pubic school faculty, making the point that:

Apparently, even though you and I have funded the local school system millions above the maintenance of effort level for years—we are still “slackers.”

Thomas went on a public rant last week writing a post on her new blog demanding that citizens fork over whatever outrageous increase CCPS asks for this year.

You see, Cecil School Superintendent, D’Ette Devine, is lobbying the County Executive and County Council for a taxpayer funded $8 million dollar spending hike over last year’s budget.

This when CCPS has been fully funded and given millions in extra funding for years.

Regardless of this fact, some CCPS teachers are showing their disdain for the hard working folks that pay their salary.

These attacks are coming from a government sector employee who receives competitive pay, sick days off, vacation time, summers off and a pension.

Thomas knows that this type of angry rhetoric will motivate the employees of the largest employer in Cecil County (CCPS) to pressure local government to once again award them with more tax payer funds.

Aside from the oversimplification that teaching is a nine-month profession given some of the training they may have to receive during the summers, there is a lot to be said about the Campaign for Liberty’s point. How many government agencies are protected by law against cuts in such a way that Maryland public schools receive thanks to “maintenance of effort” laws? The state dictates how much money counties have to fork over in order to match their goals, and whether the county can afford it or not (or passed a revenue cap as Wicomico County did a decade ago) does not matter to the state – if the county doesn’t comply the state treasury will hijack the county’s allotment of state money and make sure the schools are paid what the state thinks they are due. It’s a ridiculous constraint on county budgets.

Whenever conservatives take over in government, the wailing and gnashing of teeth by the Left is all but intolerable. Listen to them whine about cuts to education in the state budget and you’d quickly forget that the allocation to education (both pre-K to 12 and state-funded colleges) increased for the Hogan FY2016 budget – just not as much as the education lobby expected or demanded. Structural deficit be damned, they aren’t satisfied with any less than the massive increase they assumed they would get when Anthony Brown was elected.

The same holds true locally. Hours after being sworn in, County Executive Bob Culver announced he wasn’t going to borrow for a new West Salisbury Elementary School, triggering outrage in the local community. But after a January tour of the building by experts in the construction field as well as Wicomico Board of Education members and administration, it’s been quietly determined that spending $2 million would be enough for most of the desired upgrades. (The cynic in me thinks the folks at West Salisbury just took too much pride in maintenance and didn’t let the building go far enough to pieces, as opposed to the former Bennett schools.)

More recently the alarm sounded when Culver brought up the idea of keeping the old Bennett Middle School, which is being replaced by a new building away from the current Bennett High School site, as an office complex for the Wicomico County Board of Education. The Bennett community was outraged as the old middle school is supposed to be torn down for athletic fields to complete the planned three-phase replacement of the old Bennett Middle and High Schools with a new high school building and facilities on the existing Bennett site and a middle school built near Fruitland. (The middle school is slated to open next school year.) Proponents have taken to social media to make their case.

But perhaps the better question no one is asking is why more office space is needed? Over the years claims have been made that county government is very lean, but I question that assessment if the BoE needs more room for administration. The county has already bonded millions for the Bennett construction (among other projects, big and small) so debt service is a concern at our level as well as for the state.

It’s a problem because increasing debt load doesn’t help citizens in any way but takes money from needed services, such as snow plowing and otherwise maintaining roads. (I say that because the plows just went by here.) It doesn’t matter which county you are in, citizens feel they have enough taken from them by government but the public sector demands more. Martin O’Malley’s solution of tax increases and additional debt was bad for Maryland, so the new approach promised by Larry Hogan is in the process of being enacted. It’s not our fault the schools aren’t thrilled about the prospect of making do with less. Welcome to the real world.

The longest 2 1/2 months

January 19, 2015 · Posted in Business and industry, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics, State of Conservatism · Comments Off 

Believe it or not, there will be 78 days between the time Larry Hogan won his election and the day he will be sworn in. Those 11 weeks have seen practically every other unit of government turn over since the November election – for example, Wicomico County changed over in early December while Congress went two weeks ago and the General Assembly last week.

In that timespan we’ve seen much of Maryland turn in a decidedly more conservative direction. But as one Facebook observer pointed out, Larry Hogan has bent over backwards to appease most of the groups in Maryland with his cabinet and executive branch selections, which include at least one O’Malley holdover and several former Ehrlich staffers. The one group he has not tapped, however, is the TEA Party branch of the Republican Party.

And with most of the prime spots already taken, it looks like the Maryland government will shift rightward but only about as far as the middle of the road because there’s not going to be anyone there to really push it hard right. Likely this is by design as the perception of bipartisanship may be necessary to win again in 2018, but then I always work under the assumption that the dominant media will support the Democrats in this state so it really doesn’t matter just how much our side panders to the left. So why not try to beat back the other side with conservatism on all fronts?

Now I also know that there are people on my side and who I call friends who say that we have to work with Democrats on things we can agree on. That’s okay as far as that goes, although I think that list of agreements is a lot shorter than my more moderate friends think it is. There are some functions of government I believe are necessary, though, and to the extent that we can improve them to make them more user-friendly I can deal with it.

But then take budget items like the Purple Line. In the 2 1/2 month lame-duck gap between the election and Larry Hogan’s inauguration that special interest has taken the time and money to lobby for its very existence. History and logic would dictate that the Purple Line would be a cronyist boondoggle to build and a money pit to maintain because ridership will never pay for the cost of running the trains, but I’m detecting a softening of Hogan’s previous hardline stance. A couple billion dollars would fix a lot of bridges and potholes, but those aren’t as sexy as a rail line which proponents will claim will improve the environment – of course, that’s based on full trains which we won’t see.

Everyone who is a prospective victim of the budgetary chopping block will be out in force over the next month or so trying to plead the case that they should be spared the axe, like the state’s arts community. But catering to everyone is how we got to where we are in the first place.

Obviously Larry Hogan needed a little time to make sure he won the election and mull over those people who he will need to run his administration. But this change in government couldn’t come soon enough for those of us who would like it rightsized, and while job one of the Hogan administration has to be that of getting the state’s economy back on sound footing and moving in a positive direction, not far behind that effort should be one to have a FY2019 budget that’s no larger than the one we passed last year.

Wicomico’s Fab Five

January 13, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

Tomorrow a unique chapter in Wicomico County history will begin as our five-member delegation to the Maryland House of Delegates will all simultaneously begin their careers in Annapolis as part of an overall freshman class in the House that’s one of the biggest in memory.

While Christopher Adams, Carl Anderton, Jr., Mary Beth Carozza, Johnny Mautz, and Sheree Sample-Hughes took divergent paths to get to that point, they will all meet in the same place. And with the exception of Anderton and his slim 52.2% of the vote, there was a clear mandate from their respective districts for these newcomers – combined Adams and Mautz racked up 78.6% of the Wicomico County vote while Carozza was close behind at 77.6%. (Sample-Hughes was unopposed.)

And while only Sample-Hughes and Anderton have previous experience in elective office – Sample-Hughes with eight years on Wicomico County Council and Anderton with nine years in Delmar as a commissioner and mayor – the life experiences of the others can’t be discounted. Mautz and Carozza have worked in government before on the Congressional and state levels, while Adams has represented a professional association in legislative matters. Naturally Adams and Mautz were placed on the Economic Matters Committee, while Carozza garnered a seat on Appropriations. Anderton was placed on the newly-rechristened Environment and Transportation Committee, and Sample-Hughes will be on Health and Government Operations.

So Wicomico is in very good hands, and there’s a lot of work to do.

While the overriding priority for all of these representatives is that of getting our economy back on the right track, the more pressing local issues will come from the environmental and budgetary fronts. The Phosphorus Management Tool may be placed via the regulatory route – and if so may instead be the target of a repeal effort – but it’s a battle more likely to be fought on the legislative front, despite the assurance of a veto from incoming Governor Larry Hogan.

But the real battle will be to return the state’s highway user funds back to the county, a $7 million transfer that Anderton would like to see returned in order to address the tax differential issue in Wicomico. Most of the $1.4 million is ticketed for the city of Salisbury, but Fruitland and his hometown of Delmar would also benefit. Carl may get the double dip as the PMT legislation would be argued in his committee, while he may also get a say in the highway user funds as well.

Over the next 90 days, these five and all the others will go to work and hopefully begin to turn this ship of state around. And as all that is going on, rest assured I’ll be watching the legislation and considering which votes go onto the monoblogue Accountability Project – one of these five is very interested to see how the scores will come out and has peppered me with questions about how this all works, so I may as well explain.

As the session goes along, I watch the process and try to pick out a total of 25 key votes. 22 of these will be floor votes on bills I find interesting and have votes where there is significant opposition, although I have occasionally used a unanimous (or nearly so) vote on something like the capital budget. For example, I think the operating budget vote has been on every version of the mAP, with the “no” vote always being the correct one. That may change if I see Larry Hogan making significant progress on rightsizing state government – if the budget comes in under $40 billion I may be satisfied with a green light. We will see.

In the few years I have done committee votes, the three votes have actually been 30 between ten committees in the House and Senate. In some committees it’s hard to pick just three votes while in others I have to scrape together three. But they are included in the 25 for each member.

25 votes is the magic number because math is easy: four points for each vote. Since I use a system where points can be deducted (one point for an absence and two points for intentionally not voting) working with even numbers is much easier. I also have a rule for House members who can change their votes after the fact that changing to the right vote is only worth half the credit while flipping to the wrong side is a penalty of 1.5 times the vote.

This year will also have the unique situation of members joining mid-session. Since Larry Hogan has tapped a number of  sitting General Assembly members to serve in his administration, there will be a number of vacancies filled after the session begins. That will affect their score for this year but won’t adversely affect their lifetime score for future sessions. Votes which occur before they are seated won’t be marked as absences.

But that is something to be determined 90 days from now. In the meantime, it will be up to our Fab Five to do what they can do to make life better for residents in their districts.

The push for local accountability

January 12, 2015 · Posted in All politics is local, Delmarva items, Education, Maryland Politics, Politics · Comments Off 

A Daily Times story by Phil Davis yesterday noted the push by local elected officials to give Wicomico County the accountability of an elected school board. Davis points out that Republicans are pressing to get the issue on the ballot in 2016 while local Democrats want more hearings and cite an ACLU study which claims minorities can only attain one seat on County Council under the current districts.

But additional hearings are only a delaying tactic and Delegate Sample-Hughes (who was the lone dissenter in the two previous occasions this issue came before County Council) knows it. She should also know that any such resolution will have to have a hearing before County Council and when legislation is brought before the state there will be another public hearing in Annapolis.

As for the ACLU, the reason why minority candidates don’t tend to win in races outside the majority-minority district is twofold: one, their political views aren’t generally congruent with the conservative mindset of the county, and secondly not very many run. In 2014, the only minority to run countywide was Norma Lee Barkley, who was re-elected to the Orphan’s Court for a ninth term. In 2010, Ed Taylor, a former Council member, was fourth out of the four who ran for the at-large Council seat. Both Barkley and Taylor are Democrats; however, Michael Steele easily carried Wicomico County in his unsuccessful U.S. Senate bid in 2006 while Democrat Brenda Hughey-Jones was fourth of four on the ballot for an at-large County Council seat. Proportionately, minorities make up 30% of the Wicomico County population.

The Daily Times points out that Salisbury has two majority-minority districts out of its five, which is very close to its minority population of 41.4%. However, it should be cautioned that a non-minority can represent a majority-minority district. I know that blows the minds of the ACLU, NAACP, and other similar organizations but it has happened before locally and probably will in the future – particularly if minority turnout continues to decline as it did in this most recent election.

All these grievances, though, are simply a diversionary tactic from the other political side which likes the system in place because they assume Democrats will almost always have the governor’s chair and the automatic 4-3 majority on our Board of Education which goes with that. Even in a situation where a Republican is governor, though, they are still only one turncoat, weak-kneed Republican from a working majority and with five-year terms there’s a good chance the previous Democrat appointed one when a Republican’s turn came up. (We have a couple of them now.) With an elected school board, the chances are the makeup of the board will be far more conservative and that’s what the education establishment fears.

On a personal level, though, this is what I would like to see in an elected Wicomico County Board of Education:

  • Seven members as it has now, with one elected from each County Council district and two at-large (just like County Council.)
  • The elections would be non-partisan. Primary ballots from both parties would have all candidates listed, while the unaffiliated could vote for Board of Education only on their ballot.
  • While most counties do staggered terms, I think it would be confusing – so elect all seven on the Gubernatorial ballot with all other county officers. If we had to stagger terms I would do the two-at large on the Presidential ballot and the five districts on the Gubernatorial.
  • As far as vacancies, since it is a non-partisan office the best way to fill them is to have the County Council vet the candidates, submit a list of three names to the County Executive, and have him or her make the selection. Alternatively, the County Executive could select a candidate and make the appointment contingent on the County Council’s approval and consent.

The reason we on the Republican Central Committee met with our state delegation was because we need enabling legislation from the state to make this happen and wanted their advice on how to proceed. Certainly we would like our Democratic counterparts to get on board but as I said they tend to prefer the system as it is, with all of its faults and lack of accountability. Because the Secretary of Appointments handles this task for the Governor, we are at the mercy of an unelected bureaucrat to determine who is tasked with guiding the education of our children and the spending of tax dollars we contribute to that cause. Jim Fiedler may be a nice guy, but he shouldn’t be making the final selection of our school board members. The voters of Wicomico County should have that say.

Just as a point of reference, I looked up the six current members of the Wicomico County Board of Education – the seat that formerly belonged to Larry Dodd is vacant because he was elected to County Council.

  • Ron Willey, President (D) – appointed in July 2007 and re-appointed in August 2012. His term would expire in 2017 and he cannot be re-appointed (there is a two-term limit.)
  • Donald Fitzgerald, Vice-President (D) – appointed in 2009 and term is expired – he’s serving until a Republican successor is in place since his seat would now logically go to the GOP thanks to Larry Hogan’s election.
  • Marvin Blye (D) – appointed in 2010, his term will expire in 2015.
  • Dr. Tyrone Chase (D) – appointed in 2007 and re-appointed in 2012. His term would expire in 2017 and he cannot be re-appointed.
  • Dr. Carolyn Elmore (R) – appointed in 2011, her term will expire in 2016.
  • Kim Hudson (R) – appointed in 2011, her term will expire in 2016.
  • The vacant seat is a Republican one, with about four years left on the term.

So we have poorly defined terms as members serve until their successors are selected. In 2015 three new members would be added (2 Republican and 1 Democrat), in 2016 two Republicans, and in 2017 two Democrats. It’s confusing, antiquated, and needs to change.

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 

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.

An early voting update

If you subscribe to the theory that the most motivated voters will be there with bells on when early voting starts, it appears that statewide Republicans are slightly more enthused than Democrats.

Final update, Friday 10/31: While Democrats pulled away ever-so-slightly to finish with a higher percentage of early voters statewide than Republicans (9.29% – 9.17%) there are two conclusions which can be drawn.

One is that early voting seems to have gained acceptance among Republicans, as the total nearly matched the 2012 Presidential election number of 9.31% of the electorate.

The second is that Eastern Shore voters are by far the most receptive to the concept. While the major parties picked up just under 10% of voters statewide, about 1 in 5 Talbot County Republicans and Democrats used the process. As for the four lower Shore counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 9.64%, Democrats 7.68%
  • Somerset: Republicans 11.69%, Democrats 9.27%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 10.50%, Democrats 8.92%
  • Worcester: Republicans 11.49%, Democrats 9.57%

If four more Kent County Republicans had voted early, the entire Eastern Shore would have had a Republican advantage in early voting. As it stood for yesterday’s final day of early voting, the Democrats held sway by a 827-795 tally. Republicans, despite a significant registration disadvantage, had more voters for five of the eight days locally and ended up with 5,056 voters to 5,024 for the Democrats.

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Update, Thursday 10/30: The race is almost tied between Democrats and Republicans (by percentage) statewide, as the two sides are 0.02% apart (7.35 to 7.33). Democrats maintain that slight edge statewide, but the GOP is still ahead locally by wide margins:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 7.52%, Democrats 6.12%
  • Somerset: Republicans 9.58%, Democrats 7.86%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 8.90%, Democrats 7.43%
  • Worcester: Republicans 10.01%, Democrats 8.18%

Republicans on the Lower Shore maintained a raw advantage for the day at the polls by a 678-671 count.

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Update, Wednesday 10/29: Democrats extended their lead on a statewide basis 6.04% – 5.97%. But the GOP maintains its edge in local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 6.12%, Democrats 5.11%
  • Somerset: Republicans 8.26%, Democrats 6.63%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 7.55%, Democrats 6.15%
  • Worcester: Republicans 8.35%, Democrats 7.04%

Republicans on the Lower Shore maintained a raw advantage for the day at the polls by a 671-621 count. And there are some incredible totals among some counties: both parties in Kent and Queen Anne’s counties are already over 10% turnout, but Talbot County Republicans have already eclipsed the 15 percent mark with the Democrats not far behind at 12.46 percent. Obviously that part of the Eastern Shore has embraced early voting, while the western end of the state seems to lag with Allegany and Washington counties well below average.

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Update, Tuesday 10/28: Democrats still lead by a slim margin on a statewide basis 4.80% – 4.76%. But the GOP maintains its edge in local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 4.91%, Democrats 4.24%
  • Somerset: Republicans 6.45%, Democrats 5.57%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 6.10%, Democrats 5.00%
  • Worcester: Republicans 6.96%, Democrats 5.86%

All but one of the Eastern Shore counties have Republicans leading Democrats (Kent is the exception), and Wicomico joined Worcester as the second-highest GOP margin in the state behind Talbot County at this juncture. Republicans added a county as well and now lead by percentage in 15 of the state’s 23 counties. Republicans on the Lower Shore regained a raw advantage for the day at the polls by a 624-606 count.

I was doing some research on 2010 election turnout and it looks like turnout is tracking about the same as it did back then, at least locally.

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Update, Monday 10/27: At the halfway point of the eight days (through Sunday), Democrats finally edged ahead on a statewide basis 3.58% – 3.56%. But the GOP maintains its edge in local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.72%, Democrats 3.31%
  • Somerset: Republicans 4.92%, Democrats 4.59%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 4.73%, Democrats 3.91%
  • Worcester: Republicans 5.68%, Democrats 4.68%

All but one of the Eastern Shore counties have Republicans leading Democrats (Kent is the exception), and Worcester remains the second-highest GOP margin in the state behind Talbot County at this juncture. Republicans lead by percentage in 14 of the state’s 23 counties and the Eastern Shore sha 8 of these 14. But local Democrats won this day at the polls by a 332-304 count.

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Update, Sunday 10/26: On a slow Saturday for voting overall, Democrats came back to close the statewide gap; it’s now 3.11% – 3.08%. New totals for local counties:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.43%, Democrats 2.96%
  • Somerset: Republicans 4.21%, Democrats 3.90%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 4.03%, Democrats 3.35%
  • Worcester: Republicans 4.94%, Democrats 3.91%

All but one of the Eastern Shore counties have Republicans leading Democrats (Kent is the exception), and Worcester has the second-highest GOP margin in the state behind Talbot County at this juncture. But for the second straight day, local Republicans outpaced Democrats at the polls by a 342-331 count.

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Update, Saturday 10/25: The GOP extended its lead in the state to 2.56% – 2.47% partly on the strength of solid gains on the lower Shore. All four of these counties added to Republican gains, with the raw number of Republicans actually exceeding Democrats on Friday by a 750-697 count. New totals:

  • Dorchester: Republicans 3.11%, Democrats 2.57%
  • Somerset: Republicans 3.66%, Democrats 3.32%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 3.15%, Democrats 2.69%
  • Worcester: Republicans 4.17%, Democrats 3.30%

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1.34% of GOP voters statewide made it to early voting compared to 1.31% of Democrats, but this marks the first time Republican turnout as a percentage outstripped Democrat turnout on the first day of balloting in a general election. In the Presidential election of 2012, 2.56% of Democrats came out compared to 1.68% of Republicans, and that advantage grew greater with each passing day. Meanwhile, 2010 saw Democrats edge Republicans on the first day by 1.04% to 1% on their way to an overall advantage of just under 1 percent. So a Republican advantage at this juncture could spell good news for their candidates.

However, on the Lower Shore Republicans have a distinct advantage in turnout percentage and nearly eclipsed the Democrats – who hold a registration advantage in all four counties – in terms of raw numbers. Democrats held a slight 939-892 advantage in first-day turnout. (For the four counties overall, Democrats lead in registration 56,462 to 46,862.)

  • Dorchester: Republicans 1.66%, Democrats 1.49%
  • Somerset: Republicans 2.37%, Democrats 2.17%
  • Wicomico: Republicans 1.54%, Democrats 1.49%
  • Worcester: Republicans 2.39%, Democrats 1.86%

The turnout is brisk in legislative District 38C, where 2.02% of voters turned out on the first day and made it the fourth-best rate in the state. In Wicomico County, District 38B leads the way with 1.62% while, ironically, District 38C performs the worst at 0.82% – perhaps due to distance from the county’s lone early voting polling place in Salisbury. Reportedly, candidates from both parties are hitting this Wicomico County location hard and the Republicans are set up there with a table.

But on a state and local basis, this has to be encouraging to Republicans who didn’t adopt early voting originally but have been encouraged by party brass to take advantage of it to make sure their votes were cast in this important election. If Republicans can hang with Democrats in terms of percentage of early voters, it may be their Election Day turnout will push them to a better overall showing than expected, making the turnout models pollsters use overly optimistic toward Democrats.

Time to do the deed

Today is the day that tiny percentage of Maryland registered voters who actually do this begin going to the polls for early voting. I know some of my party cohorts will be out at the Civic Center campaigning for the Republican ticket, and needless to say it’s a straight R year for me.

But there are races I’m much more passionate about than others, so let’s go through the list and I’ll tell you what I think. That IS why you come here, isn’t it? If my number 16 race doesn’t come out I won’t be all that upset, but if the top half-dozen or so go the wrong way I’ll be pissed. These are the 16 items on my specimen ballot – I live in House District 38B and Wicomico County Council District 3, which is one of only two of the five districts to have a contested race.

  1. Carl Anderton, Jr. for Delegate, District 38B. I am really tired of my poor representation in Annapolis from Norm Conway. He votes for every bloated budget, (almost) every conformity with Obamacare, every accommodation to Big Labor, and a number of other dreadful things as well: in 2011 he voted for the Congressional redistricting that made our state a laughingstock but in committee he helped kill provisions to allow referendums on tax increases and proof of lawful presence before collecting benefits. In 2012 he voted to saddle new homeowners with the added expense of sprinklers, but he saddled the rest of us with the rain tax, tier maps, and the key to getting around our county’s revenue cap by mandating maintenance of effort spending. Granted, once in awhile he votes the right way but why lose on three or four issues to gain one? Republicans and pro-Wicomico Democrats: don’t fall for the hype of potentially losing a committee chair – even though Norm is a fairly nice guy, if he were all that powerful we would be the richest county in the state and we are far from that. It’s definitely time for some new blood to get us back to work. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  2. Mike McDermott for Senate, District 38. Really, this should be 1-a but my function won’t let me do that. Jim Mathias may vote a little better than Norm Conway, but I would rather have someone who’s a thorn in the side of the current Annapolis majority – who went out of their way to lump him into a district with another sitting Delegate – than a backbencher. What better way to thumb your nose at those who believe the Eastern Shore is the state’s “shithouse” (in more ways than one) than to foil their political intentions? If I can pick up 60 points on the monoblogue Accountability Project by changing my representation, you know the answer is yes. This is another race where conservatives need to come home and not cross the aisle, because Jim’s few blind squirrel votes aren’t worth the overall pain. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  3. Bob Culver for County Executive.  Our county has stumbled and staggered through this so-called recovery with the incumbent Rick Pollitt, a self-described bureaucrat, in charge. Don’t forget that Rick whined about the revenue cap for the first three years in office and promised a zero-based budget I haven’t seen yet. After eight years, it’s time for a change in tactics and Bob can be a fresh set of eyes to address our declining number of employed. I know Bob may rub some the wrong way but I’m willing to overlook that because, to me, re-electing Rick Pollitt is the definition of insanity for Wicomico County. Chances of success: I would say about 40-50 percent.
  4. M.J. Caldwell for Circuit Court Judge. To me, this is a perplexing case. Here you have an experienced attorney who knows his way around a courtroom taking on a person whose claim to fame is his last name – if it were Swartz, he’d still be at his old firm. But because people still know the Sarbanes name in this area, the newly-appointed “incumbent” got the gig. I was extremely disappointed and somewhat disgusted to see that Caldwell only won the Republican primary with 57 percent of the vote – people, do your homework! Caldwell would be a good judge. Chances of success: about 1 in 3 unless Republicans shape up.
  5. William Campbell for Comptroller. You’ll notice Peter Franchot has played up his fiscal watchdog tendencies in this campaign, but I think that if Larry Hogan becomes governor we need Bill to keep him grounded and make the Board of Public Works work in a conservative direction for the first time in…well, ever. Unfortunately, Bill has little money to get his message out and Franchot’s too scared to debate him. One problem with Larry Hogan taking public financing is that the Maryland GOP is spending maximum time and effort fundraising for Larry instead of helping these downballot races. Chances of success: alas, probably less than 1 percent.
  6. Larry Hogan for Governor. All politics is local, so I think the state race can take care of itself. But I hope that Hogan has enough coattails to bring in a dozen Delegates and half-dozen new Senators, including the two mentioned above. While I hated his primary campaign, I have to admit Hogan’s done a good job in the general election round. But will it be enough? Polls suggest it might. Chances of success: about 50-50.
  7. Larry Dodd for District 3 Council. The thing that bothers me about his opponent is that, for all his “aw, shucks” demeanor, he’s been exposed to a large number of anti-property rights zealots. He worked for Joan Carter Conway, the Senate’s EHEA Chair, and not only does she have a lifetime mAP rating of 4 (yes, that’s really bad) but she has passed a lot of bad legislation through her committee over the last several years – something Josh fails to mention. But I will give Josh Hastings his due: he’s campaigning hard, knocked on my door and has worked harder for the seat than Dodd has. It would be a shame to succeed a good, conservative Councilwoman in Gail Bartkovich with a liberal who may have grown up on a farm but has spent his politically formative years more readily influenced by Baltimore City and Annapolis. Chances of success: about 35 to 40 percent.
  8. John Cannon for at-large County Council. While his voting record has often been a disappointment, he was one of the two who got through the primary. I have more hope for him becoming a conservative stalwart, though, than I do for his fellow Republican. Chances of success: around 60 percent.
  9. Voting against Question 1. I’ve stated my reasons for opposition before, but most of the money is backing it and referendum items rarely fail. Chances of success: less than 10 percent.
  10. Jeffrey Pritzker for Attorney General. We are really in trouble, folks. We could have had one of our good county state’s attorneys (or my personal favorite, Jim Rutledge) step up but instead we got Pritzker, who I have never met. When I see prominent conservative-leaning bloggers backing the Libertarian in the race, it can’t be much of a campaign. That’s a shame, because there’s more to the campaign than legalizing pot. And losing this seat means the gun-grabbing Brian Frosh will be our Attorney General. Chances of success: even less than Campbell’s sub-1 percent shot.
  11. Matt Holloway for at-large County Council. There are many holes in his voting record as well, but winning the primary makes him the odds-on favorite to not be third on November 4. So I guess I’ll have to wonder how often he’ll cave for another four years. Chances of success: over 80 percent.
  12. Andy Harris for Congress. No muss, no fuss. Have you heard a word about Bill Tilghman? The one thing you can say about Bill is that at least we haven’t caught him voting twice. This race is perhaps the closest thing to an automatic win for our side – when even the Daily Times has to endorse you, it’s a good sign. Chances of success: over 95 percent.
  13. Voting against Andrea Leahy as a Special Appeals Judge. Similar to the election involving Jimmy Sarbanes, Judge Leahy is up for election because she was appointed by Martin O’Malley in March. I looked at her profile and wasn’t impressed, but it’s rare a judge is tossed out. I would love to see who Larry Hogan would appoint, but if Leahy lost Martin O’Malley would rush another appointee through – and he or she would sit until 2016. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  14. Voting against Kevin Arthur as a Special Appeals Judge. His profile is better than Leahy’s but, still, he is an O’Malley appointee. Chances of success: in the single-digits.
  15. Grover Cantwell for Orphan’s Court Judge. I have never met the guy, yet he wants my vote. This is a part of the ballot where those who get listed first (the Democrats) have the advantage because they’ve all been on the ballot before. Chances of success: perhaps 1 in 3.
  16. Voting for Question 2. I can get behind this proposal, which allows charter counties like Wicomico the option to have special elections to fill County Council seats. Having gone through the process of filling such a vacancy, I think it should be opened up despite the risk of losing a GOP seat to a Democrat. Chances of success: over 90 percent.

So this is how I think my local election will go. As for some other contested county races I’m supporting, in order of likelihood of success:

  • Addie Eckardt for Senate, District 37. The hard part for her was winning the primary. Sure, there may be some diehard Colburn supporters out there but their other choice is a guy he beat by 20 points last time around. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Mary Beth Carozza for Delegate, District 38C. Having an opponent who wears a “Ban Assault Weapons” t-shirt to an Andy Harris townhall event provides an immediate advantage in this area. But Mary Beth has been working since the summer of 2013 on this race, and that hard work is on the verge of paying off. Chances of success: 95 percent.
  • Marc Kilmer for District 2 Council. When your opponent threatens to go to court for winning, you know you’re in good shape. But Marc has taken nothing for granted, works hard, and has a fairly solid Republican district. Chances of success: at least 80 percent.
  • Christopher Adams for Delegate, District 37B. He wasn’t the top vote-getter in any county, but he’s run a solid campaign and the dynamics of the race give him a better path to victory than fellow Republican contender Johnny Mautz. Chances of success: a solid 75 percent.
  • Johnny Mautz for Delegate, District 37B. By far the top primary vote-getter, the one drawback is that he has to finish ahead of Keasha Haythe because both hail from Talbot County and there’s a limit of one per county. If he were second to her in the overall voting, he would lose and the third-place finisher moves up. With that in mind, I give him just ever-so-slightly less favorable odds. Chances of success: a solid 74.9 percent.

My advice to every contender in the last two weeks: run like you are five points behind. See you at the polls!

2014 Autumn Wine Festival in pictures and text

October 21, 2014 · Posted in Business and industry, Campaign 2014, Delmarva items, Maryland Politics, Personal stuff, Politics · Comments Off 

Yet again I was found at Pemberton Historical Park for an event involving potent potables. But this one was more like work for me because I’m simply not a wine drinker – didn’t have a drop. Yet I did take a few photos.

So once the ribbon was cut by (among others) County Council members Matt Holloway, Stevie Prettyman, Gail Bartkovich, and John Hall, we were underway. I was really there for our Republican booth.

Carol Rose is a big fan of monoblogue and now she’s famous. Actually it gives me an opportunity to thank a whole crew of people who helped out for at least part of a day for the two events: Jackie Wellfonder, Shawn Jester, Carol Rose, Greg Belcher, Linda Luffman, Phil Adkins, David Warren, and Larry Dodd, who you’ll see in a little while. Jim Jester didn’t sit with us, but he was valuable for helping me to set up and take down for each event. That’s a job in and of itself.

But I wasn’t the only person helping get out the vote. Circuit Court judge candidate M.J. Caldwell had his own space.

These were the Ritz crackers with cheese. Sunday visitors got the upgrade to Triscuits.

On the other side of the aisle (literally) were our friends, the Democrats. Pete Evans was there most of the weekend, and as I noted this morning I spoke to Delegate candidate Rod Benjamin for a bit while I was there. I also saw Laura Mitchell from afar.

I was a lot closer to Mike McDermott and Chris Adams, who stopped by Saturday to try and collect votes.

As I noted, District 3 contender Larry Dodd was by on Sunday checking out my neighboring tent while helping man the table.

It’s worth pointing out that attendance between Saturday and Sunday was like night and day. While I took these from different vantage points, the time of day was pretty close between the Saturday photo on top and the Sunday one at the bottom.

Something else a little different was the use of one space. On Saturday, the top photo shows a VIP area. On Sunday it was converted to an artisan’s tent with some of their wares put out.

For a few extra dollars on Saturday, you got the nicely appointed tables, a bigscreen TV, a large sectional sofa, and private restrooms. With the exception of the tables, they kept those things on Sunday but very few were there.

Of course, the weather had a lot to do with the spotty Sunday attendance. While it was in the 70s and balmy Saturday, a chilly, cloudy morning and gusting gales on Sunday reminded me again why I call it the Autumn Wind Festival. And those gusts created havoc at the other political tents, oddly enough.

M.J. Caldwell’s tent reared up on two legs before being corralled. But as David Warren saw with his photo, the Democrats weren’t as fortunate.

You’ll notice how devoid of people this end of the festival appeared on Sunday. Unfortunately for a lot of vendors, it was that way Saturday, too. I took this about 3:45, just at the end of the peak time.

While a few were playing games and some watched the college football – granted, the television tent was a little busier on Sunday afternoon for the Ravens game – there was another place people stayed.

Bear in mind I took the next picture Sunday, with the smaller crowd.

Practically every section of this fence had a group staked out. They were close to the wine tents, lucky ones had a view of the stage, and they had their chairs for the duration. With the layout of the event, it was tough on the vendors beyond the last tent – we were lucky enough to be on the back side of it so at least we had some traffic.

If you noticed the chair Larry Dodd was sitting in, it was part of a collection from this vendor.

They have an interesting story since this couple, who I presume are married, traveled from Ohio to the AWF – apparently they do several similar shows a year around the country with the next one in Texas.

So if you wondering who the couple in the Cleveland Browns gear was, there’s your answer. And the chairs seem to be fairly comfortable based on my limited experience of sitting in one for five minutes, so why not give them a plug as thanks? Besides, at $139.95 I figure a year’s free advertising on my site is a fair trade for an air chair. (Never hurts to ask!)

Of course, my better half might prefer the Gollywobbler.

That was fairly good marketing, but not as unique as this tagline.

And since I had the hop head from last week, why not the grape guy?

Still, I favor the more traditional. I really liked the usage of the barrel.

And, of course, the more colorful the bottles in the sunshine, the more likely it is I’ll use the shot. The Winery at Olney gets that honor this year.

But as a vendor, I want to close with my two cents. For those at the south end of the festival, it was pretty brutal. One thing about the layout they use is that 80% of the people can conceivably cluster around the four large tents and the stage in the middle all day. I saw a few people who brought their lunch so they were all set aside from the bathroom breaks.

What I would suggest is a two-stage setup like the Good Beer Festival employs, because it may entice a little more churn in the crowd. Yes, you will get your campers but they may be more inclined to move during an hour break between bands than a 30-minute one.

I’m sure we’ll be back next year, even though it’s pretty much an off-year election (except for the city of Salisbury, which will be in campaign mode.) We may have a little Presidential material as well as those who may run for the Senate, but we won’t have a lot to give out. I would like a little more traffic, though.

CAR/Salisbury Independent forum part 2: District 37

Yesterday I discussed what was said by the county-level candidates at this forum, so today I’m covering the six hopefuls who represented District 37: Addie Eckardt and Chris Robinson for the Senate seat, and Christopher Adams, Rod Benjamin, Keasha Haythe, and Johnny Mautz for District 37B.

Of the two seeking the Senate seat, Eckardt has by far the most political experience as she was elected as a Delegate in 1994, serving in the House ever since. At the eleventh hour this cycle she dropped her quest for a sixth House term and jumped into the Senate race, defeating longtime incumbent Senator Richard Colburn in a bitterly-contested primary. Robinson, on the other hand, is making his second straight bid for the Senate seat after losing to Colburn in 2010. He could be considered a perennial candidate as he’s also run unsuccessfully for Congress in 2008 and 2006, twice finishing second in the First District primary. Chris was also a last-minute addition after original Democratic candidate Cheryl Everman withdrew.

Their first question had to do with the retirement climate in Maryland, which is bad, but relevant to the district as a number of retirees live along the Chesapeake Bay. Eckardt properly noted the state’s poor showing in rankings of best states to retire in, but added that we needed to look at tax policy across the board, along with addressing the “duplicative nature” of our regulatory system.

After stating that “our jurisdiction is no different than any other jurisdiction,” Robinson agreed that we had to “ratchet back” spending and not raise taxes. But on the second question about the Affordable Care Act, Chris made the case that “it hasn’t worked its way through the country,” and while the rollout of the state exchange was “botched” he thought the emphasis on preventative care was worthwhile. “Give this process a chance,” he concluded.

Eckardt told us that the “good news” about the state’s adoption of Obamacare was the Medicaid expansion, which she believed should have been done first before the exchanges. With it being done in its present manner, premiums were up and employers were dropping coverage. She believed the states needed to promote change at the federal level.

When asked about key real estate issues, Addie wanted to bring together mortgage holders and first time homebuyers by conducting an inventory of tax sales and foreclosures. Meanwhile, Robinson wished to “put points on the board” by making towns exciting and vibrant, calling on builders to create quality homes.

I found Robinson’s closing statement to be intriguing, as he said he was “inspired” by Rick Pollitt and Norm Conway. “I want to be just like them,” he said. Eckardt stressed the power of communication to solve problems, and pledged to be focused and deliberate.

To be honest, I didn’t see Robinson saying or doing anything which would suggest he’ll do much better than the 40 percent he got last time against Colburn. He tried to portray himself as a fiscal conservative, but in this region it’s tough to out-conservative the Republicans.

In contrast to the veteran presence of Eckardt and the perennial candidate in Chris Robinson for the Senate race, the House of Delegates will have two new representatives. Those representatives will have to pay attention to southern and western Wicomico County, which has felt underrepresented in the past based on the thrust of the opening question.

As it turns out, Christopher Adams is from Wicomico, so he stated the obvious: he will be a resident delegate, focusing on our municipalities and business. That business background led him to pledge that “my customers will be my constituents,” regardless of where they live in the district. But he also stressed that we have to start “winning the argument” against the Democrats.

Keasha Haythe replied that she was used to working across county lines as an economic development director, so working with Wicomico County residents wouldn’t be an issue. Similarly, Rod Benjamin pointed out the similarities between his home area in Church Creek and the area of western Wicomico County.

Johnny Mautz noted that he had spent a lot of time in Wicomico County and would work with its local and municipal governments.

This quartet got perhaps the strangest question of the night, one which asked about the effects of climate change and flooding.

Mautz indicated his belief that the state should help flood-prone landowners, but reminded us the flood insurance rates are based on federal mandates.

Benjamin also believed the flood insurance cost was “unfair.” And climate change? “Truth is, I don’t know what the truth is,” he said, noting that he’d seen some extreme tides recently.

Haythe believed we needed to be proactive about the sea level rise, stating it’s already affecting the planned Harriet Tubman visitor center.

But Chris Adams turned the question on its head, taking issue with subsidized government interference. The Eastern Shore, he said, “should be pro-growth, pro-construction.” He also objected to the federal government turning a significant part of Dorchester County into a national park, warning that it would adversely affect private property owners in the area who would lose their rights.

Adams stayed in that vein during the “realtor” question, making the case that Sussex County, Delaware was the prime beneficiary of Maryland’s mistakes, which include a prospective 64% property tax increase because of our state’s growing debt. He pledged to be business-friendly, saying “I’m about jobs.”

Haythe thought a path to success for realtors involved taking advantage of state and federal programs, and leaning on pros (like herself) who know how to create jobs.

Land use was “a large concern” to Johnny Mautz, as were taxes.

Benjamin was asked a little later on about this question, and made the case that local control of issues is preferred. He also offered that the “tier system is better than the smart growth system.” He also proposed a Startup Maryland program, based on a program Wicomico County already has in place for tax abatement.

Later, in his closing statement, Rod told us all we had homework: tell others about what was said tonight. He repeated a mantra of “reduce taxes, reduce government.”

Reducing taxes was also on the agenda of Johnny Mautz, who told us “my word is my bond.”

Keashe Haythe encouraged us to consider both her track record of results and her “human American platform.”

Finally, Christopher Adams begged Annapolis to “leave us to our Shore way of life.”

To me, this was the weakest link in the debate. The questions were relatively uninspiring and most of the answers were fairly rote. One interesting aspect of the House of Delegates discussion was that Rod Benjamin was openly trying to sound as conservative as the Republicans. (In fact, I ran into him at the Autumn Wine Festival and his tone was relatively the same.) On the other hand, Keasha Haythe wanted to make us believe that an economic development director could create jobs.

Yet I did a quick bit of research into Dorchester County’s job creation and retention since 2009, and it shows their labor force has declined by 921 people in five years, with 554 fewer unemployed but 367 fewer actually working. Since she began her job in 2008, Dorchester isn’t doing all that well and one could argue it’s state policies holding her back – policies which emanate from her party. Perhaps it’s something which a woman who’s worked in the public sector for over a decade may not understand.

On the other hand, Adams and Mautz both run businesses so they have created jobs and added value. (Both also support this local blog.)

To me, it was telling that almost all of the candidates tried to convince the crowd of their conservatism. It was much the same in District 38, although there were a disappointing number of omissions. More on that tomorrow.

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.

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