In previous years I have detailed some of those events I have attended, and this year is no different except I decided to take fewer pictures and enjoy (or take stock in) the events more.
On Sunday our family made a regular stop, honoring the veterans through music at the Concert for a Random Soldier in Long Neck, Delaware.
The event is now in its tenth year (more on that in a bit) and it benefits this veterans organization, Guitars for Vets.
Naturally, local veterans organizations use this both to inform others who may be interested in their service and to gather together.
Since this event has now reached a decade in duration, I found it very cool that the Delaware General Assembly saw fit to honor it with proclamations from both their House of Delegates and Senate. Senator Ernie Lopez presented the Senate version to event creator Terri Clifton.
Delegate Steve Smyk did the same for the House, but that was prior to our arrival.
Originally I wasn’t going to do a second post but as it turned out I had enough band photos that I will do a separate Weekend of Local Rock post next weekend. The Concert for a Random Soldier also featured a modest car show, raffles, and good food. Next year you should make plans to join in this worthwhile family Sunday.
Another event which has become an annual tradition here in Salisbury is the Memorial Day ceremony at the Wicomico County Youth and Civic Center.
As it has become tradition, I decided not to do a full pictorial of the event – if you want the blow-by-blow, previous coverage will suffice.
But each year I notice that, while there is a handful of new people there, the majority of those who attend and participate have some number of gray hairs. It’s worth pointing out that the revival of patriotism that was a reaction to the mistreatment of those who returned from Vietnam almost a half-century ago is itself nearly 25 years old. (The Reagan years birthed the resurgence, but it began in earnest when we sent troops over for Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm in 1991.) Those who served in that particular theater of war are now themselves middle-aged.
Instead, those in the present generation of fighting men (and women) are once again saddled with the fact they fought in what became an unpopular war where any victories gained were squandered by subsequent military decisions and strategy. I sense at times that patriotism is once again becoming a parody of itself – talking about “‘Murica” and all that. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the current political leadership, but to me it’s still there.
Memorial Day, however, is a day to set aside political feelings for the conflicts we find ourselves ensnared in, for the thousands and thousands who have perished in defense of our land are the ones we should be remembering today. Just because the federal government made it a three-day weekend, replacing the traditional May 30 date to instead insure it’s always on a Monday, doesn’t mean that the sense of loss for the families comes to an end or that the sacrifices were any less ultimate.
I hope those who are growing up come to understand the true meaning of the holiday, for I sometimes get the bad feeling their generation may bear the brunt of future observances. Let’s hope my hunch is wrong.
At our Central Committee meeting last night we had the pleasure of hearing from Wicomico County Executive Bob Culver. One thing we touched upon in the meeting was the aspect of public hearings for gauging public support of an elected school board in Wicomico County, at the behest of Senator Jim Mathias. We learned that none of these sessions had been planned yet, so I’m going to throw out the first ideas on this.
I don’t think anyone would say that there can be too few public hearings but I think that there can be too many. Sooner or later people would lose interest so I think the optimum number would be five.
To me, five is the fairest number because we could base one in each County Council district – important because the proposal would use those same boundaries for school board districts. As far as timing, I think August is the best month although September is acceptable as well. This has more to do with the availability of facilities than anything else, because in most cases schools would be the ideal location for these public hearings. Specifically, I think the hearings should be sited in the following facilities, all of which lie within that Council district.
- District 1: West Salisbury Elementary School
- District 2: Mardela Middle’High School
- District 3: Wicomico Youth and Civic Center
- District 4: Bennett High School
- District 5: Pittsville Elementary/Middle School
These locations are somewhat spread through the county, although by necessity most are in the Salisbury area.
Obviously elected officials may not be able to make each of these hearings, and the idea is to hear from as many voices as possible. But if the respective County Council members can act as hosts and facilitators, the process should be satisfactory to all involved.
Then we can get to the business of passing this bill in next year’s session. The people’s voice delayed should not be the people’s voice denied.
It’s concession time in Annapolis: for another year, the will of Wicomico County voters will be thwarted by a group refusing to accept that the answer to the elected school board question should be decided by the voters, not a small group who’s worried that their power base may be threatened.
Today I received a press release from my Delegate, Carl Anderton, admitting the bill is defeated for the session. In it, Anderton noted that:
This delay affords us the opportunity to have an inclusive year-long dialogue about the issue. It will give everyone more time to weigh in and reassure anyone with concerns that next year’s bill is reflective of community input.
Yet if the “dialogue” is in the tone and tenor of the testimony offered by Jim Ireton, there’s no use in conducting the discussion. In fact, he said at the hearing, “I think the discussion should end now.” After all, according to Jim, an elected school board would “debilitate our public schools.”
And if there are public hearing with a number of proponents speaking, I’m sure Ireton would echo his charge about a “sparsely attended public hearing” attended by only proponents. It’s the “small band of supporters” who also gerrymandered the county, placed us under a “crippling revenue cap” and “refuses to be responsible.” These are all quotes from his testimony before the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee. (He comes on at the 4:00 mark.)
Here is the dirty little secret Carl will eventually learn – there is no amount of dialogue which will satisfy them. For whatever reason, the appointed status quo satisfies their desire to have a malleable board that has generally been selected with the approval of the teachers’ union. Since the Democrats have occupied the governor’s office for much of the last forty years, the appointments were made with that interest group in mind. The only accountability was to the sponsors who backed them, and as long as a couple of those “yes-men” were from a minority group, all was peachy keen in their world.
To them, an elected school board is scary because accountability may be introduced. Again, consider what Ireton thought about the voters of the county which chose to install a revenue cap and would prefer an elected school board.
They are scared. But we’ll give them the public hearings, and for that I better damn well see Jim Mathias as a co-sponsor. I honestly think his not sponsoring the bill is what prevented it from going forward.
As the old Brooklyn Dodgers fans used to say, “wait ’til next year.” No more excuses.
It was enlightening to see the main points you brought up in testimony regarding our county’s expressed desire to convert from a fully-appointed Board of Education to a “hybrid” elected and appointed body. In reading the summary presented by Phil Davis in the Daily Times, I seized upon several arguments made against the concept and I’d like to address them here.
The first was the financial argument presented by Senator Montgomery in her line of questioning. Indeed, the county receives a large amount of money from the state for its Board of Education, in part because it’s one of those eight counties (plus Baltimore City) which has “less than 80 percent of the statewide average wealth per pupil” and also has a disproportionate share of those students who must learn English as a second language. Senator Eckardt brought up the difficult economic times the region has seen over the last several years, but that’s not necessarily the correct argument to counter this point.
Rather, one must examine the root of all government money: the taxpayer. Perhaps Senator Montgomery, being from a county chock full of those who work for the federal government, is assuming that everyone has the means and willingness to give government whatever it wants. Instead, we as concerned Wicomico County residents come from that seemingly quaint and disappearing class of people who actually demand accountability for the taxpayer dollars we provide. While the financial books may show that the majority of our school funding comes from the state, it’s worth making the point that we taxpayers are the ones providing the money. Because all state money comes from the labor and toil provided by those who pay taxes at some level, including to the federal government, it follows that we want to keep a relatively close eye on it.
As for the question of community input, it’s worth reminding Mayor Ireton, Mrs. Ashanti, and other opponents that this is not the first time the subject of an elected Board of Education has come up. It’s been a topic of discussion for decades, and the previous edition of County Council resolved to ask Annapolis for a simple straw ballot to determine interest in further legislation only to be thwarted by opponents who charged that the system as proposed did not properly address the concerns of the minority community. To me, that’s a tacit admission that the community interest was there but as proposed an elected Board of Education did not meet with the political desires of the opponents, who generally subscribed to the philosophy of the party holding the governor’s office at the time.
And elections do matter. While the main issues of last fall’s election were the sentiment that the state and local economy was not improving at a satisfactory pace, and that government overall was not being careful with the increasing amount of money they were taking out of our pockets, there was an underlying sentiment that our educational system also needed improvement and accountability. Thus, two key opponents of an elected Board of Education were voted out of office and two proponents were voted in.
Yet the new county government listened to one key demand of the opponents and compromised. Personally, I was not happy that the fully-elected Board of Education was replaced by a version with two appointed members and five elected – our version of a “hybrid” model counties who have recently shifted from a fully appointed board have used – but I understand the politics behind the move, and that time was of the essence to bring the proposal before the current session of the General Assembly. Yet my suspicion is that the opponents know what the public input will be, and that’s a resounding approval of this proposal when placed before the voters.
Next is the interesting point brought up by Mr. Johnson of the WCEA regarding the County Executive’s influence on the board and the school’s budget. It’s interesting because he’s fretting over two members of a seven-member board, members who will have no greater voting power than any other member. If the two members appointed by the County Executive disagree with the position of the other five elected members, their opposition will simply amount to the losing end of a 5-2 vote if they can’t convince the other members to adopt their viewpoint.
But I want to conclude with the sentiment expressed by Mayor Ireton and Mrs. Ashanti that, “it was a select few who made the call for an elected school board.” My argument is that it’s a select few who participate in the process now.
For eight years I was a voting member of the Wicomico County Republican Central Committee. As such, one of our tasks was to assist in the appointment of the three Republican members of the Board of Education (at the time; with the election of Governor Hogan the GOP ranks were allowed to expand to four.) Presumably the Democratic Central Committee does the same with their appointees, although I confess that I have a lack of knowledge about their process as I can speak to ours.
Yet despite our vetting of candidates, more often than not the appointee would be determined by the input of others who had interests that were more political in nature. The final say actually comes down to one person: the state’s Secretary of Appointments, who in turn is appointed by the governor. In the case of the most recent previous governor, he was elected despite our county’s support for his opponent. Where was our public input then?
Over the last two weeks, the Republican Central Committee dutifully interviewed prospective members and submitted names to the Secretary of Appointments to fill two vacancies on the Wicomico County Board of Education. We submitted the names of all those who interviewed, expressing only our order of preference, in a process agreed on by the Central Committee.
But because some members of the body aspired to be on the Board of Education and another was absent from the final meeting, it was a bare quorum of five members who decided the order of preference. Five people submitted names to one person to make this decision, and yet this is considered superior to a process where thousands of people would be able to decide those they would like to place in charge of millions of taxpayer dollars?
In November, we elected a County Council and County Executive who will be charged with an annual operating budget of roughly $130 million. Yet the appointed Board of Education is submitting an overall budget for FY2016 in excess of $190 million, of which they are asking the county for $39 million. Once again, let me reiterate that a small group of perhaps fewer than two dozen people at the local and state level had input on who was chosen to oversee that Board of Education budget, a budget nearly 50 percent larger than the county’s operating budget as a whole.
When it comes to maximizing accountability and local control, the verdict is simple: an elected school board – even in this “hybrid” form – is the proper way to proceed. Opponents who wish to maintain the status quo are hiding behind a series of smokescreens to obscure their real issue: the loss of their political influence over who gets to operate Wicomico County’s school system.
Fresh off a shellacking where their statewide standard-bearer had his doors blown off locally by 30 points and only two of their eleven state race contenders won - one by just 30 votes locally and the other in an ostensibly non-partisan race – the Wicomico County Democratic Party finds itself in somewhat desperate financial straits. So in order to raise a little money, the party is making some claims which have to be seen to be believed – and I’m going to show you.
Let’s go through this a little bit at a time, shall we?
Maryland voters decided to “Change Maryland” last November, with the election of Larry Hogan as Governor. However, with only a month in office, Hogan is already proving himself to be just another Tea party Republican.
Perhaps the idea was to indeed elect a TEA Party Republican, rather than four more years of the O’Malley/Brown debacle? We certainly were due for a change.
And as far as the TEA Party goes, it’s worth recalling that TEA is actually an acronym that stands for “Taxed Enough Already.” We heard for three-plus years about all the tax increases put in place by the O’Malley/Brown administration so people naturally decided enough was enough.
But they continue:
Here are just a few of his first actions:
- Slashing education funding – $1.9 Million from Wicomico County alone
- Recklessly raiding over $2.5 Billion from our Transportation funding
- Eliminating programs that help to keep the Bay clean
Apparently I’m supposed to take their word about these so-called cuts, since there’s no context or backup information provided.
I will not profess to be an expert on the state budget; however, I did look under public education and on all three line items I found for Wicomico County:
- “compensatory education funds to local school systems based on Free and Reduced Priced Meal Eligibility counts” goes from $37,322,878 actual in 2014 to $38,615,082 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $1,292,204.
- “additional support for students with limited English proficiency” goes from $3,092,879 actual in 2014 to $3,407,287 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $314,408.
- the automatic supplement to counties “which have less than 80 percent of the statewide average wealth per pupil” goes from $3,670,117 actual in 2014 to $4,579,323 for 2015 estimated – an increase of $909,206.
By my count that’s an increase of $2,515,818. It appears the Hogan administration is well taking care of those things it needs to, prioritizing at a time when the state had to address a $750 million structural deficit.
I still haven’t figured out where the $2.5 billion “raid” to transportation funding is – the repeal of the automatic gas tax increase would save consumers nearly $1.56 billion over the next five fiscal years. We know Democrats own tax increases, so perhaps they bemoan that “lost” revenue to the state.
As for the elimination of programs for the Bay, I’d like to know precisely what they are referring to. They’re getting the PMT regulations so they should be happy.
Anyway, let’s continue.
And the story is the same in Wicomico County where Larry Hogan’s Tea Party partner, Bob Culver, is becoming the anti-education County Executive by refusing to fund a new building to replace the clearly antiquated West Salisbury Elementary School and scraping (sic) completion of the Bennett High School athletic complex.
Obviously the WCDCC has little concept of debt service. It would be one thing if the county could reach into its pocket and fish out $40 million for a new elementary school but the idea of pulling out the county’s credit card to put yet another multi-million dollar expenditure on it doesn’t appeal to the new County Executive. Just like they did in electing Larry Hogan, county voters wanted a change in direction from the former administration.
Instead, the county will improve the school in the areas where the need is greatest, with the list compiled through a consultation with experts and school officials. It may not be the “new” West Salisbury Elementary, but it will be an improved one. Perhaps that approach would have saved the county a lot of money with the former Bennett High School.
As for the Bennett Middle situation, completion of the athletic fields would not be “scrapped” (as the letter should have said) but simply placed in a different area of the site. The former Bennett Middle would be repurposed for office space, allowing the opportunity for the county to consolidate some of its operations. The change still needs the approval of County Council.
Picking back up, with the sad trumpet appeal for funding:
This isn’t the change I voted for in November, and I know you didn’t vote for this, either. We need your help to fight back. We cannot elect more Democrats in 2018 without your support over the next four years. Every dollar you donate to the Wicomico Democratic Central Committee goes to funding our efforts to recruit and help good local candidates.
Most importantly, your donation goes to helping us communicate our party’s values to the voters… personal responsibility, educating all of our children, cleaning up the Bay, protecting our agricultural community, equality for ALL, supporting local businesses, and protecting the Middle Class… and we need your support!
Actually, I did vote for some of this change. Unfortunately, I couldn’t change enough members of the General Assembly to make the total difference that’s needed – although my personal representation in the House of Delegates got a whole lot better.
But if the WCDCC wants to elect more Democrats in 2018, those Democrats can’t be in the tax-and-spend, socially liberal mode. Not in this county.
And after reading that Democrat screed, I realized it’s really conservatives who advocate for all those things the Democrats claim to stand for. That’s not to say a Democrat can’t be conservative but they are fewer and further between, even in this area.
So how would I, as a conservative, respond to their letter? I’ll go through what they claim to represent.
We believe that personal responsibility begins with keeping more of the money you earn by taking advantage of the opportunities a capitalist system creates.
We believe that money should follow the child so you can choose the best educational opportunity for your children, whether in public or private school or through a homeschooling regimen.
We believe in cleaning up the Bay through a balanced approach, beginning by addressing a proven detriment in Conowingo Dam and not punishing farmers who have been trying their best to address the issue.
We believe in protecting the agricultural community by allowing farmers the option to do as they wish with their land, not arbitrarily shutting off development options to them.
We believe in equality for all, not discriminating for or against anyone. But we also know our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values which have stood the test of time.
We support local businesses by allowing them more freedom to do what’s productive and less time to have to deal with governmental edict and regulation. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, and we want to encourage them to grow and prosper for the community’s sake, not as a cash cow.
We want to protect and grow the middle class – not at the expense of the upper classes, but by allowing the conditions where those on lower rungs of the economic ladder can climb their way up through hard work and ingenuity.
The jury is still out on this, but I think all the Democrats have is rhetoric. We will have to keep an eye on the GOP to make sure they deliver the results their philosophy should yield.
So if you are a local Democrat who received this letter, there’s only one thing to do: go to the Board of Elections and request the change of registration form to become a Republican. It may be your best chance to influence election results in the future.
Once in awhile I’m wrong. Maybe it was bad information, and maybe I just misinterpreted what I heard. But I was glad to be incorrect in this case.
A few weeks ago I posted on what I thought was the demise of Pork in the Park. But since we celebrated National Pig Day this week, I’m very, very happy the report of its demise was premature!
Instead, the annual festival was retooled and scaled back to a two-day event to be held on Friday, April 24 and Saturday, April 25 – the dates the now-shuttered Salisbury Festival would have fallen on. After the ill-fated move by Pork in the Park to Mother’s Day weekend last year (thanks to Easter occurring on its usual April weekend) the closure of the Salisbury Festival in favor of a fall event gives Pork in the Park a little better weather potential.
Other big changes immediately apparent are the serious reduction in admission prices from last year’s $7 to a much more affordable $3. When you factor in the food costs, families didn’t seem as willing to shell out the money to get in. You may not have the ambitious entertainment schedule of recent years, but as long as there are ribs to eat most will be happy to have the same sort of bands we usually hear for most of the fall festivals. (You can bring back Smokin’ Gunnz for me.)
It’s most likely the cost came down once the decision was made to broom the wing eating contest that comprised most of the Sunday entertainment and the national recording acts on Friday and Saturday nights - although I haven’t seen an updated entertainment scale yet the promotions are for the Eastern Shore Wing War (a people’s choice contest), the cornhole tournament, and pig races. (No wagering, please.)
Last year had to be a disappointment for the county’s tourism board, with the number of competitors way down from previous years. The trick will be getting those who passed on the event last year to place it back on their contest calendars. I think if they can get back to around 80 to 100 competitors that will be a success. It’s likely the cyclical nature of the food business has weeded out some of the weaker, less serious competition teams as barbeque is not necessarily the “in” thing right now so doubling the number who participated last year would be a good goal.
As for us, I am pleased to see the event come back. It may not be as ambitious as it was before, but at least the organizers conceded they reached a dead end and decided to give it another shot on the scale we were accustomed to. I’m sure I’ll be there, so hopefully I’ll have a goodly amount of company.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.