WCRC meeting – August 2011

Last night’s was an interesting and informative Wicomico County Republican Club meeting to be sure, as County Council president Gail Bartkovich filled us in on some of the ins and outs of county government as it stands now.

As always we began with the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and my reading of the previous month’s minutes, with a treasurer’s report added for good measure. But Bartkovich began with some good red meat, announcing the elected school board resolution will be discussed once again – she also detailed how she came to be aware of the changes Delegate Conway proposed in a last-second meeting before the hearing. They were also getting input from the local NAACP regarding both the school board issue and redistricting in a future face-to-face meeting.

The key point of Gail’s discussion, though, settled on the creation of a Charter Review Committee. Required by charter on a decennial basis, Bartkovich announced that 25 county residents (some who had served on the previous committee a decade ago) were volunteering their time and talents – of that group, about 15 to 17 would be selected and the County Council would appoint the committee’s chair, with the committee then deciding on a vice-chair. The selection process would occur next month, with the first meeting (open to the public, by the way) to be held sometime in October and most likely at Council chambers. The series of public meeting would lead to recommendations, which would be voted on by County Council. They would vote whether to present the question to the public at the 2014 General Election. Continue reading “WCRC meeting – August 2011”

WCRC meeting – July 2011

It was a smaller-than-usual turnout, but those who came were treated to interesting information from Wicomico County State’s Attorney Matt Maciarello – not all of which I’m at liberty to share.

Of course, we did the usual Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, and reports, but much of the meeting was devoted to Matt reviewing his accomplishments over the first several months of his term. He also was pleased with yesterday’s Daily Times article which “shows lawyers in a good light.”

Among his accomplishments was improving communication and collaboration with law enforcement. When he took over there were “gangs running amok” and 13 homicides left over from 2010, but his approach of “zero tolerance” and a “Top 25” prosecution list seems to be lowering the crime rate somewhat. Realizing that a small percentage of criminals commit much of the crime, Matt also said he strives for longer sentences and higher bail for certain criminals.

But Maciarello is always asking officers on the beat, “what can we do better for you?” He related the thought that, “when we screw up, people suffer.” That extends to his efforts in the community as well, where he encouraged us to “mentor a child.”

Other accomplishments he cited were cleaning up a “disorganized” budget by cost-cutting and working on their own website along with picking up “low morale” in the office – Matt noted he’d hired the first Hispanic attorney and first woman assistant DA in county history.

Matt had an interesting observation on the local blogosphere when he said “the bloggers were bullying Davis Ruark” into giving them scoops on events. He solved that problem by posting press releases to their website first, guaranteeing access for anyone interested. Being a blogger myself, that insight was most interesting and refreshing.

He then opened up the meeting for questions.

The first asked if more criminals were from out of town, since ECI is so close. Regretfully more are homegrown, said Matt, citing the poor home life some have to endure. He would rather engage in prevention and intervention rather than prosecution, but sometimes that was a choice made by the criminal.

On time served, Matt chided Maryland for not being “truthful in sentencing.” So there were techniques Matt’s office used to keep criminals behind bars longer because “we can’t invent evidence.” It was a problem with shows like CSI which made people believe evidence could be made airtight.

As for drug-related changes, Matt called drugs a “scourge” on the community. But the drug of choice seemed to be pain pills like Oxycontin – “we’re seeing zombies,” said Matt.

Finally, Matt commented on the juvenile system. The problem with the system as it is in Maryland stems from a lack of facilities for the most hardcore kids. It’s why Matt encouraged mentoring to such a degree – “we can be different,” he concluded.

After that, there wasn’t a while lot to report on. The Central Committee had a number of upcoming events, remarked Ann Suthowski, and would make a push at those for voter registration.

Woody Willing noted that Wicomico County produced about 759 signatures for the SB167 petition and the Board of Elections was already preparing for next April’s primary. He also reminded us of the WCRC Crab Feast next month, August 27 to be exact.

After other minor club business was discussed, Gail Bartkovich had some County Council announcements.

First of all, she was looking for volunteers for a Charter Review Committee (prescribed by the county’s charter to be formed every 10 years) which would work toward putting any proposed changes on the 2014 ballot.

Secondly, next week’s County Council meeting (August 2nd at 6 p.m.) would feature Rick Pollitt’s reorganization proposal, so we were advised to either attend or watch the meeting to see what he says.

Gail was asked about the resolution for an elected school board, since there was some controversy over remarks at a prior meeting. As far as she knew, the original resolution was still valid and binding although she would verify it wasn’t a dated resolution. But a new one could be proposed at any time, she added.

Besides Maciarello, her answering these questions may have been the highlight of the meeting. We’ll do it all again on August 22, with a speaker to be determined.

Adding to the agenda

Counting comments by members and the public and a scheduled work session, there were fifteen items on the agenda for last night’s County Council meeting. But much of the discussion from the two dozen or so members of the public who attended had to do with an item not mentioned – the prospect of an elected school board.

I’m not planning to do a blow-by-blow report on each upcoming County Council meeting as my work and personal schedules probably wouldn’t allow me to attend them all. But last night’s was an exception because I wanted to see just how amenable the new Council will be to this idea; meanwhile, another item piqued my interest for the work session.

I’ve found it intriguing just how little Council disagrees on most issues they face, even before the split went to 6-1 Republican. In fact, out of the nine resolutions which were voted on last night only one had any sort of opposition. As it turned out, the East Side Mens Club only received its property tax exemption for this fiscal year – their original proposal of forgiveness for fiscal years 2009 through 2011 was rejected because County Council President Gail Bartkovich thought it a poor precedent and most agreed – only Bob Caldwell and Stevie Prettyman objected to the deletion of the 2009 and 2010 tax abatement while Joe Holloway abstained.

Otherwise, most of the discussion centered around a contract for food services at the county jail, and that was mostly technical questions about paying for new equipment should one side or the other back out of the deal.

A new proposal which may be quite contentious is the county’s effort to exempt one- and two-family residential dwellings from new provisions in the International Building Code and International Residential Code requiring fire sprinklers. The legislation will have a hearing on February 1st, with Bartkovich stating this should be discussed at an evening meeting to promote more public input.

The fun part of the Council session came in public comments, where a series of speakers pleaded with County Council to get moving on adopting an alternative to the currently appointed school board.

Leading off the parade was local political activist Matt Trenka, who stated, “I would like to see some leadership” on the issue. It was the “obvious answer” to the lack of responsibility he perceived from our current appointed body.

Joe Collins followed up with a detailed analysis of the various methods other counties use to select their school boards – while most Maryland counties have fully elected school boards, Caroline and Harford counties employ a “hybrid” of elected and appointed members. He also pointed out an alternative similar to that Joe Ollinger unsuccessfully campaigned on, where the County Executive selects the board with the advice and consent of County Council.

Kay Gibson, another frequent commentor at County Council meetings, chimed in that she “had very little say” on the school board as currently comprised because she has little effect on the Governor’s race. She, too, favored an elected board of education.

The question was “what is best for the children of the county?” suggested local GOP Chair Dave Parker when he spoke. Why should it be up to the Central Committee to do the job of sending the applicants they prefer up to Annapolis?

G.A. Harrison echoed these other speakers and urged the County Council to consider this quickly since the 2011 General Assembly session is about to start and bills introduced late have to go through the Rules Committee.

Perhaps the most cautionary proponent of change was Marc Kilmer, who asked us to keep in mind the purpose of a school board and noted that elected school boards don’t always create positive change – some of the country’s worst schools are saddled with poorly-performing, partisan school boards.

On the other hand, there was one voice who made clear her opposition to the concept. Mary Ashanti, head of the local NAACP, fretted that certain groups and economic classes would be disenfranchised and that an elected school board “would never have the balance” of party and racial makeup to be successful. The NAACP is against the idea, she added.

Personally, I don’t care if those elected are black, white, male, female, or polka-dot – I just want the best people elected. That was part of my statement before the Council, where I also told Ashanti that “good people can disagree.”

I have my own ideas for a proposed school board, which I’m going to save for a later date. (It’ll come in handy as I anticipate perhaps a minor break in the action on this end.)

In their comments, four members of County Council spoke at least somewhat favorably toward the idea, with Joe Holloway clearly stating “I would like to see us move ahead” on this process. He asked how people would feel if the County Council itself was appointed in a similar manner, an analogy Bob Caldwell liked. Also agreeing were newly elected at-large members Bob Culver and Matt Holloway, who added that “he hadn’t seen a good argument against” the concept.

After this discussion, Council President Bartkovich promised the idea will be on the agenda. For me it’s a case of “trust but verify” and we’ll see when that happens.

The second part of the meeting was a Council work session dealing with two subjects: a presentation by the county’s auditors and a measure legally known as Legislative Bill 2010-12. That bill would be enacting legislation to bring speed cameras to county roads. As you should be aware I’ve visited this subject here on a previous occasion or two and I spent a good portion of my public comment speaking about how Fruitland abuses their privilege.

Well, the folks from RedSpeed and both Sheriff Mike Lewis and his deputy Gary Baker tag-teamed the County Council trying to convince us that “we can use 21st century technology…to protect our children” as Lewis said during the presentation.

Now, I have no doubt that having a very attractive brunette on the sales force could turn some heads in a male-dominated arena like the Sheriff’s office. (Since I was sitting diagonally behind Lewis, I couldn’t help but to notice that during the preceding auditor’s report this lady either quietly conversed with Mike on some subject or checked her Facebook page with her mobile phone. I doubt she and I will be Facebook friends after this post!)

But I think Mike was sold a little bit of a bill of goods by the RedSpeed team. If Sheriff Lewis has an issue with the state not returning any of the money collected when a ticket is written for any traffic offense, that’s a problem he should take up with the state instead of having Big Brother looking over our shoulder. As I noted back in July, this is a process ripe for abuse.

In fact, the RedSpeed team admitted that “they’re not sending anyone to court (to collect) $15, nor do they have any idea what sort of revenue we could expect. (The state mandates a fine of $40 for an offense, which means the company and county would have a $15/$25 split, respectively.) One problem they faced was that there was no applicable contract to review, as the company used Fruitland’s contract as a template for their presentation to Council. Meanwhile, no one could answer the question about the time and effort required for, say, a deputy to drive out and fetch a vehicle daily because to do otherwise could incite vandalism.

Another concern expressed by County Council was that this would be a backhanded way of funding LEOPS, as Fruitland apparently does. While Lewis protested that “what you decide to do with the money is entirely up to you,” it’s obvious that Council saw Fruitland’s example and the declining revenue they’re getting.

If RedSpeed and the county do come to an agreement, it would likely be a 2-year term with up to three automatic renewals.

And while it was alluded to that the city of Salisbury may follow Fruitland’s lead and adopt speed cameras, I have a number of objections to not just the concept but to the practice. Of course I think we should drive safely and be careful around school zones, but while Lewis cited the number of accidents which had occurred over the last decade in these areas, I had no context of whether they actually involved excessive speed – more likely the cause was inattention. That’s not solved with a speed camera, and seeing the warning sign could lead to even more accidents like those which happen at intersections with red-light cameras.

Yet my biggest fear is that, as the county or municipality begins to get used to a revenue stream from scofflaws, these amounts will start to fall short of expectations for both the local government and for RedSpeed. (Also, there will eventually be market saturation as more and more localities get the cameras.) Naturally, both entities will put pressure on the state to:

  • expand the area where speed cameras can be used from school and work zones to anywhere along a roadway;
  • increase the fine from $40 to $50 or more, and;
  • reduce the leeway speed from 12 mph over the limit to 10, 8, 6, etc. Pretty soon they’ll be nailing you for one mile per hour over – and I know from experience my speedometer varies by a couple miles per hour from posted radar sites. So it’s hard to know just how accurate the cameras would be and if they’ll be properly calibrated.

I think I know how the Council will be receiving this legislation when it comes to a vote, but I’m not going to tip my hand on which members are leaning toward approval and which ones oppose. I’ll keep my poker face on for that because, frankly, I don’t want Mike Lewis or RedSpeed to know.

I’m very disappointed that a Sheriff who is sworn to uphold the law in a nation founded on the rule of law can embrace a technology which presumes guilt rather than innocence. The system is flawed in that they can only provide a photograph of a car’s license plate and make the owner liable, even if he or she wasn’t driving. To get out of the ticket, the owner has to narc on the actual driver if he or she knows. That’s some example to set – anyone else see the Orwellian aspect here?

They’re not called “scameras” for nothing. Let’s stop Big Brother in his tracks.

Wicomico County Council promises new direction

Last night a packed house (for once) attended a Wicomico County Council meeting which was short on legislative action but long on emotion as three new members replaced three outgoing ones. These are my observations.

The meeting was essentially comprised of two rounds of remarks sandwiching the actual ceremony of Council members being sworn in and receiving their certificates. (I noticed they are similar to the ones I have for being on Central Committee; I would have expected something a little different.)

The outgoing councilman who spoke first was John Cannon, who opted to make an attempt for state office rather than maintain the Council seat he won in 2006. “I think we have done some great work over the last four years,” said John.

He also praised County Executive Rick Pollitt for doing “an excellent job” and county citizens for being “very receptive” and “very nice.” But he also pleaded, “there’s been a lot of unity in this Council…I urge you to continue that.”

Bill McCain, who only wished to serve one term and thus didn’t seek re-election, finished his service by encouraging those present to serve the community and praising John Cannon as a “good political example” of someone he could have political differences with amicably. “I leave this Council (as I started) with no personal agenda,” McCain concluded.

Looking at the situation with his usual sense of humor, David MacLeod asked, “please look up when you’re talking to me…everyone thinks I’m still looking for two votes. It is what it is.” He praised his successor Bob Caldwell as “a fine gentleman” and joked about being asked to go on Comedy Central if he didn’t win.

But he looked back at his term by recalling, “I had no idea what I was getting into when I ran for office (but) it was really exciting.”

“Wicomico County is a gift…when I finally came to Wicomico County (after living all over the world) I knew I found home,” stated MacLeod, who said he would remain available and accessible if needed.

Stevie Prettyman, who survived a re-election challenge, piped in that she would miss MacLeod for his sense of humor, Bill McCain for his influence, and John Cannon for his shyness.

After running unopposed, Joe Holloway thanked his cohorts and the voters and pledged, “I look forward to serving the taxpayers of Wicomico County…with diligence and enthusiasm.”

Sheree Sample-Hughes spoke of the “blessing and privilege” of serving for the betterment of her children’s lives and was most pleased that the current council was civil despite their disagreements. “That shows we are leaders,” she said. She also stated she’d miss John Cannon as her “tag team partner” at meetings they both attended, Bill McCain as a “big brother,” and David MacLeod for his sense of humor and keeping her motivated.

Finally, Council President Gail Bartkovich told those assembled it was rewarding and humbling to serve as Council president. And while she was sorry her departing fellow Council members were leaving, she was looking forward to “a great new Council.” She also had special thanks for her husband John, who until recently served as the chair of the Wicomico County Republican Party, for getting her started in politics.

After each spoke, we took a short break as the incoming Council was gathered to be sworn in by Clerk of the Courts Mark Bowen and then posed for pictures. (Among other places with pictures of the event is Right Coast.)

The first order of business was to elect new officers. No one objected when Bob Culver nominated Joe Holloway to be Council Vice-President and Matt Holloway nominated Gail Bartkovich to return as Council President. It’s worthy to note that their terms as officers only last until December, 2011 – by charter, each year a new officer election is held.

After the ceremony, the newly-minted Council made their remarks.

Bob Caldwell thanked his election opponent David MacLeod for an exhilarating, civil, and humorous campaign, although he pointed out in referring to a published remark by MacLeod that, “I would be much more comfortable if he’d lost by a 2,000 votes as well.” He also wanted in his thanks to “drop three f-bombs on Council” – faith, family, and friends.

Sheree Sample-Hughes thanked her “Team 1” and told us “I look forward to serving with integrity and honesty.”

Joe Holloway thanked his fellows for supporting him as vice-president and vowed to “bring respect to Council.” His departing cohorts were “always gentlemen,” he continued, but Joe also warned that, “we have four years as tough as the last four – our work is cut out for us.”

Bob Culver also gave thanks and reminded us, “I know why I was elected…for the business part of my experience.” He promised to “do what I was elected to do” as a member of Council.

Stevie Prettyman reminisced about the “positive energy” she felt at her initial swearing in 12 years ago, but cautioned that the economy was much better then. Now, “it’s going to be a tough four years…we’re going to have to make some tough choices and tough decisions and do things differently.”

Matt Holloway was the most brief, thanking his family and supporters and “really looking forward to working with this Council” to make Wicomico County “the place it could be.”

Gail Bartkovich promised as President to maintain the transparency initiatives she started, keep her fellows informed, and give them an equal right to place those items on the agenda which they promised their voters they would do. But this would be her one and only year as Council President as she pledged to pass the gavel this time next year.

After she finished, Gail invited us to a brief reception in the adjacent room with refreshments – not at taxpayer expense, as she reminded us.

So we have a new Council and they get down to real county business Tuesday, December 21. Indeed, it should be an interesting four years.

Caldwell officially in

It may not be his WORST nightmare, but Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt will be matching wits with a solid vetoproof bloc of six Republicans on Wicomico County Council.

Bob Caldwell just let me know: “It is official!  The count was done today, and the original numbers stood.”

His 2 vote margin was perhaps the smallest in the state for a race of such a size, but Bob will join fellow new members Bob Culver and Matt Holloway in beginning his Council tenure next Tuesday. Four incumbents remain: Stevie Prettyman, Gail Bartkovich, Joe Holloway, and Sheree Sample-Hughes (who is now the lone Democrat.)

Let’s hope the closeness of the margin doesn’t affect Bob’s friendship with outgoing Councilman David MacLeod, whom I suspect isn’t leaving the stage of county affairs.

But things are going to be different around here beginning next week, and they better hit the ground running!

Autumn Wine Festival 2010 in pictures and text

Call it the invasion of the politicians. However, it was a well-attended event thanks to the good weather.

I took this photo about 2:30 on Saturday – despite the cooler, windier conditions there were more people who came on Saturday. The first picture below came from in front of the stage around 3:30 Saturday, the next one down was from 5:30 Saturday, and the last 3:15 Sunday.

As you can see, the AWF was a well-attended event. Of course, being an election year that means a lot of politicians were there too. I’m going to start with the Democrats, who were well-represented Saturday because part of their statewide ticket was present.

Along with Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown (center in above photo with blue shirt), Congressman Frank Kratovil was also here to shore up his support. Here he’s pictured with Wicomico County Councilman Sheree Sample-Hughes.

While the lady next to him was much more camera-shy, County Executive Rick Pollitt was also gladhanding Saturday morning.

He was standing next to the Democrats’ tent, which served as their home base for the event. Much like a walkaround in Crisfield, the Democrats did a brief tour around the Wine Festival.

You really can’t miss those nearly day-glo green O’Malley shirts, much as you might like to. But they had their table full of info as well.

Needless to say, there were other Democrats who made time over the weekend to do some campaigning and perhaps drink a little wine. Among that group was County Council hopeful David Cowall (left-center in picture below) along with Orphan’s Court Judge candidate Peter Evans, who was a fixture at the festival.

District 38B Delegate candidate Gee Williams came over from Berlin on Sunday to shake some hands as well.

I didn’t get a picture of her, but also looking for votes was Patrice Stanley of District 37B. And lest you think the GOP didn’t get into the game, here are the two current ladies who represent that district, Addie Eckardt and Jeannie Haddaway. They’re joined by one of my volunteers, Woody Willing.

The other District 37 Republicans were present, too. Here’s Rich Colburn talking to County Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich.

Rounding out the District 37 slate was Dustin Mills (left) with his campaign manager Mark Biehl.

Two other state candidates from District 38 were in the house as well – in the first picture, Mike McDermott made sure to keep a sign with him. Below that, fellow District 38B hopeful Marty Pusey (left) was campaigning with a friend Sunday.

Of course, county GOP hopefuls were represented too. County Council at-large candidate Bob Culver stopped by our tent to say hello. Stevie Prettyman did too, but I didn’t get her picture.

Perhaps topping everyone, though, was this guy, Matt Maciarello.

He didn’t use our tent as a base since he had his own, cleverly bringing to the crowd’s attention some key endorsements.

Our tent was a little more low-key, with part of the reason being the heavy wind – less stuff to chase!

Bob McCarroll and Leonard Jett (pictured) are two of my helpers who I need to thank for their efforts. I also owe a shout of over the last two weekends to Mark McIver (for the tent), Ann Suthowski, Greg Belcher, Woody Willing, Ryan Hohman, Bob Miller, Bob Laun, and the Jesters (Jim, Cindy, and Shawn) for their assistance.

I also had fun with some of the photographic opportunities and wanted to give some free advertising to the people who make GREAT ice cream!

I just liked the way the banners looked from these two. It’s worth noting that the Cygnus tent had a minor collapse with Saturday’s winds; fortunately, no one was injured.

Bottle shots make a nice and colorful still life – these are from Far Eastern Shore Winery.

This one appealed to me because of the round shadow created by the large tent behind me and the perfect sun angle.

Finally, a sun-dappled reminder of the whole point of the event.

Given the attendees present, I think a growing number did and will.

Debate at FOP/PACE forum part 1 – the ‘potted plants’

Perhaps County Council candidate Bob Caldwell said it best in his closing remarks. Pointing to the side of the room where the duo running for State’s Attorney were sitting, he quipped, “(Over there) we have passion, and (on this side) potted plants.”

Indeed, most of the interest in the event came out of a contentious exchange between State’s Attorney candidates Matt Maciarello and W. Seth Mitchell. But a total of ten candidates had something to say during the event, while three others submitted written answers to questions presumably posed by the moderator, PACE director Dr. Adam Hoffman.

Since it works out well for post length to discuss the six County Council candidates who showed (plus the three who submitted written statements) as one post and save the County Executive and State’s Attorney for a later post, I’m going to do it that way – otherwise I’m looking at a 3,000-plus word post. So you get a tease.

The format was a little bit different than most, with the candidates not only presenting their opening statements but also answers to two questions regarding ideas to deal with the surge in crime we’ve had locally and why voters should choose you over your opponent, all in one four-minute monologue. Once these questions were answered, the format allowed for a few questions supplied by the audience and closing remarks.

Instead of working in strict chronological order, I’m going to summarize what each candidate said in order of their contest. One weakness of the format was that opponents in some Council races did not necessarily speak consecutively; this summary will correct that. For the record, all but one County Council candidate was represented – Dave Goslee, Jr. in District 1 did not attend or submit the questionnaire, while both District 2 contenders Mike Calpino and Stevie Prettyman along with at-large hopeful Matt Holloway submitted written remarks read by Dr. Hoffman.

So I’ll begin with County Council at-large posts and run in alphabetical order through them and on to the contested district seats.

David Cowall began by noting the turnout, “reinforces my faith in democracy.” He went on to point out that, in reality, crime statewide and even in Wicomico County has declined, at least statistically. And while he was “impressed” with the cooperation between law enforcement officers (hereafter referred to as LEOs with the phrase ‘law enforcement’ similarly abbreviated), we should focus on repeat offenders. Yet “we need to emphasize the professionalism” of LEOs – “we don’t need Barney Fife as our deputy sheriff.”

He also promoted his background as a former Naval officer, cancer specialist, and director of Coastal Hospice, which he termed “an excellent model for government.” To him, it’s more important to educate than incarcerate.

In his closing statement, he added a touch of humor by saying, “I want to bring back beards for elected officials.” But he stressed the ideas of civility, integrity, and hard work and concluded, “I’m not a particularly partisan person.”

Bob Culver stressed his business experience numerous times during his presentations, making the argument that the county needs a businesslike approach to governance. (As you’ll read in the next installment, he and Joe Ollinger were on similar pages.) To him, the agriculture industry needs to stay as our number one job producer, along with an emphasis on tourism.

One interesting idea brought up by Culver was the thought of having part-time officers as Ocean City does during the peak season. They may not necessarily carry weapons or do the same functions as a regular LEO but could be useful in certain situations. But his “business voice” came out in comparing himself with his opponents on the revenue cap – we need to “do more with less” and “quit whining.”

Government should provide “more bang for our buck,” concluded Bob, and “we need to be able to stand up on our own” without needing as much help from the state and federal governments.

Matt Holloway was not present to give an opening statement, but stressed business growth and more certain punishment of offenders along with having the best equipped and trained LEOs as possible in his answer to the crime question.

He stressed that he was superior to his opponents because he was, “young, motivated, (and) can bring fresh ideas” to the table. Matt also asked us to consider his agricultural background and “business sense.”

Returning to the political fray after a four-year absence for “medical reasons,” Ed Taylor spoke about his efforts to reduce recidivism during the period as a consultant. Apparently his ideas worked, as Taylor claimed he helped lower the recidivism rate by 80% through helping to provide jobs and housing. Yet since he “wanted to be part of the solution” for a county which needs to “survive hard times,” he’s back for another try.

“We need to reestablish community substations,” said Ed, as he also stressed community involvement and stiffer penalties as ideas to combat crime. Describing his opponents as “good people…I don’t think I’m better than any of them,” he based his argument on election on his “fourth degree” (after a bachelor’s and two master’s) – a “PhD in politics.”

In closing, Taylor again spoke of his experience to help bring the nation, state, and community “out of the depression we’re currently experiencing.” He also claimed, “I will always be on the side of the FOP…they deserve LEOPS” (a pension plan for LEOs and the subject of a long-standing collective bargaining dispute.)

Turning to the district races, Sheree Sample-Hughes had a walkover in her District 1 race as the lone candidate to show up or respond. So she stressed her “passion to serve” and lengthy background in public service as a county and state employee before taking her elected position four years ago. Her job, as she saw it, was to “connect people to resources.”

As far as crime, Sheree saw substations as an “information source” but we also needed to stress code enforcement and juvenile services. Continual LEO training and dialogue would be beneficial as well. In a second term she wanted to build a stronger relationship with the judicial system while maintaining the dialogue she had with her district through regular community meetings.

And while she expressed the thought in closing that, “tough times are yet ahead,” thus far she’s “served with passion, vision, and energy” and pointed to graffiti legislation as one of her key achievements on the County Council.

Neither candidate for District 2 could attend the event, and while Mike Calpino wrote that while he couldn’t properly answer a request for specific proposals “on what I know little about,” he did take the time to outline an answer to the comparison to his opponent via a lengthy plan for county expenditures.

On the other hand, Stevie Prettyman begged forgiveness for not being able to attend and similarly punted on the initial question by saying, “I’m not an LE professional.” But she has supported their budget requests in the past and was an advocate of the former DRILL Academy – “I was disappointed that it failed.” And while it’s not an issue the county could directly address, she supports legislation allowing concealed carry.

In stating her case for re-election, Stevie wrote that she’s “not new to politics…I’m independent and do my homework.” With debate on the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning code looming, she believed her experience in dealing with these in the past would serve her district well – as an example she cited the Cove Road controversy.

While District 3’s Gail Bartkovich was present, she got a pass in the event because she’s unopposed. The last Council race in contention was the District 4 race. (I did not see District 5 Council member Joe Holloway present; he’s also unopposed.)

Bob Caldwell is no stranger to legislative politics, as he served a term on Salisbury’s City Council (and ran for mayor in 2009 as well.) It was part of his “history of public service.” Regarding crime, a subject that “all communities wrestle with,” he reminded us that “LE is reactive” and our court commissioners had a role to play in making sure the bad guys aren’t released on their own recognizance.

But Bob’s sense of humor served to lighten the event. Referring to opponent David MacLeod as a “friend of long standing,” he stressed their biggest difference was a difference in philosophy. But he couldn’t resist a zinger or two at his friend, joshing MacLeod about referring to “a checkered past (and) being one step ahead of the law” in his opening statement. (MacLeod was speaking about his time as an addictions counselor.)

He stated his case by returning to his root philosophy of “common sense and fundamental fairness” and asked the voters to consider who they trusted to deal with the unexpected which was sure to come.

David MacLeod worked in a similar vein, cautioning Bob that “I hope you don’t mind waiting another four years” for elected office. In addressing the crime issue, David opined that the “leading cause of all these problems is drugs” and as an addictions counselor, “I reduce demand, (LE) takes care of the supply.”

As for why he’s the better candidate, MacLeod put it simply that, “I sorta know what’s coming over the hill.” He warned us to be careful of preconceived ideas, because, as he later noted in his closing, “this is going to be a little bit bumpy.” His closing argument was that we should “go with experience,” both on the County Council and in writing grant applications.

MacLeod said in his presentation that things were, “interesting to say the least.” Certainly that applied to the other half of the forum where County Executive hopeful Joe Ollinger tangled with his incumbent counterpart Rick Pollitt while Matt Maciarello and W. Seth Mitchell sparred in the main event. That’s the subject of part two upcoming.

WCRC meeting – May 2010

As the campaign season begins to hit its stride, we’re finding a larger and larger share of our attendance comes from those having something to do with a campaign, and this was the case tonight at the WCRC meeting.

Of course, we kicked things off in the usual way with the Lord’s Prayer, Pledge of Allegiance, reading of the April minutes, and treasurer’s report. That went by rather quickly so we could hear from our featured speaker.

Originally we had arranged to hear from former U.S. Senate and Lieutenant Governor hopeful Carmen Amedori, but she graciously bowed out of her speaking engagement when she exited the race. Fortunately, the speaker we wanted for April was available and Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio gave us the rundown of this year’s General Assembly session.

Delegate Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio gave us a report on the 2010 General Assembly session.

It’s somewhat depressing to know that over 2,700 bills were introduced in a short 90-day span of time, but that’s how many they had. Obviously the most important ones had to do with the state’s budget, and given the state’s budgetary rules having the House Appropriations Committee cut $11.7 million out of it was a surprise (as was the $9.3 million cut by their Senate counterparts.) Not so shocking was the $12 million supplemental budget taken from federal stimulus funds which actually increased Governor O’Malley’s original budget.

Haddaway-Riccio told us that voted against that whole mess while stating “a reduction in increase is not a cut.” She also warned that a bloated capital budget “almost guarantees an increase in property taxes” because we’re close to our borrowing limits.

Yet the Republicans were not “the party of no” as they proposed alternatives. Some examples of cuts were eliminating Medicaid fraud and abuse (saving $195 million), reducing executive branch salaries to $1 below Governor O’Malley’s ($2.3 million) and eliminating out-of-state travel expenses ($1.9 million.)

But the news wasn’t completely bad. She had helped pass a job creation tax credit (albeit with several strings attached) and also had helped with enhancing Jessica’s Law, working with business interests to grandfather in projects already in progress from onerous (“way overreaching”) stormwater regulations, and expanded the services nurse providers could provide – something which helps areas with a shortage of doctors such as the Lower Shore.

Needless to say, Jeannie did believe the business climate could be improved – otherwise “we’re chasing our tax base out of the state.

As for the future, Haddaway-Riccio thought it was important not just to put a Republican in the governor’s chair but also to increase their numbers in the General Assembly. Having just 1/3 of the seats (47 in the House, 16 in the Senate) would allow GOP legislation to be brought to the floor and not locked in a committee chair’s desk drawer. It also helps at the committee and subcommittee levels where we can best effect necessary changes.

To Jeannie, the next steps for the state would be to put our fiscal house in order, address the poor business climate, and better balance the economy and environment, a balancing act she believed could be achieved.

While many of the questions were clarifications of items she’d gone over before, a couple stuck out. Jeannie brought up the attempt to impeach AG Doug Gansler by Delegate Dwyer as an example of the need for better accountability and more transparency. She also revealed that a clone of Arizona’s SB1070 would be introduced next term by Delegate Pat McDonough.

Mark Biehl gave the Lower Shore Young Republican report – their food drive netted over $100 cash and 200 food items, which is a start. Next year they would challenge other stores to get involved. Also, the Maryland YR convention will be in Salisbury June 18-19 with other states participating in the gathering too. Featured speakers will include Bob Ehrlich, Audrey Scott, and Andy Harris, along with RNC staffers.

As for the Central Committee, John Bartkovich showed off our hardware (the Aris T. Allen Award we received at the state convention) and asked we keep up the momentum of candidate recruitment. Several future events are in the works (Farm and Home Show, Autumn Wine Fest), we need good sign locations, and our newest associate member is a familiar face – Cynthia Williams agreed to come back into the fold (she was a predecessor of mine on the WCRCC.)

We then launched into a series of campaign updates.

Newly minted candidate for Wicomico County Executive Joe Ollinger.

Joe Ollinger began by giving us a brief rundown of his biography as a retired businessman who came here nearly thirty years ago to begin his own company. This gave him the perspective of “an outsider looking in” to the county’s government as opposed to the incumbent’s view from the inside looking out. It was a contrast of having the background in government operations which Rick Pollitt has compared to the leadership Joe pledged to exhibit.

As of now, Ollinger has no events set but the campaign is working on both that and literature to hand out. He will attend the Americans for Prosperity meeting on Wednesday night, though, and his website is up and running.

Mark McIver was “humbled and excited” about being recommended to run Bob Ehrlich’s local campaign; that is, until he was told he needed to win the county with 70% of the vote and help bring more House and Senate candidates in. Yet this was a doable goal, particularly when he’s teaming up with Worcester and Somerset counties and other candidates to help out.

District 37A candidate Bob McCarroll.

One of those candidates surely will be Andy Harris. Ed Nelson represents the Harris forces locally and announced Andy will be the featured speaker at Wednesday’s AFP meeting. Key items for him were a local fundraiser June 16, a meet the candidate breakfat later that month, and getting sign placements along U.S. 50 – Wicomico has its share but Ed would like more before Memorial Day.

The one thing holding back Bob McCarroll’s campaign is the lack of a treasurer since his original choice had to back out, but once he has that locked up he’s going to hit the ground running. The District 37A hopeful can still get to events and press the flesh so I anticipate he’ll be spreading the word using some good old-fashioned shoe leather for the moment.

As for Michael James, State Senate candidate in District 38, “things are going great” according to Dustin Mills. Voters who were longtime Democrats seem to be swinging Michael’s way, and James has been very visible at several recent events.

For firsttime candidate Ryan Hohman, this may have been his initial campaign event.

Ryan Hohman is another first-time candidate getting things started, although he does have the advantage of a campaign treasurer. Ryan is running for one of the two Wicomico County Council at-large seats, presumably to replace departing Councilman Bill McCain, who chose not to seek re-election. He’s ready to start knocking on doors and getting his campaign in full swing.

Speaking on behalf of District 38B Delegate aspirant Mike McDermott, Sean Jester noted that his campaign needs volunteers (naturally, since Sean is the volunteer coordinator.) He also pointed out a curious fact – Worcester County has not been represented by a Republican in the House of Delegates since 1874. Time for a 136 year streak to end!

Don Coffin gave a report on the Jim Rutledge fundraiser last Saturday. There were a few Democrats there who were willing to switch parties just to vote for Jim, and moneywise it was quite a success. Coffin noted that Saturday was his first fundraiser and now he know “the dos and don’ts” of hosting an event. Don also volunteered a number of area sign locations to candidates meeting his standards.

Gail Bartkovich is running for re-election to Wicomico County's Council District 3.

Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio gained back the floor briefly to mention a fundraiser for Bob Ehrlich which will be held June 13 at Sailwinds Park in Cambridge.

Finally, Gail Bartkovich announced that she’d filed to run for re-election and she was ready to campaign. The County Council president represents District 3, which encompasses the eastern and southeastern sections of Wicomico County.

While he’s not a candidate, Woody Willing mentioned that the club’s Crab Feast is coming sooner than we might think – August 28 is the date. He also noted for the benefit of the candidates there that not all polling places allow signs on their property.

With that, the meeting came to an end although most of the candidates stayed around to pick up supporters and volunteers. The next meeting will be June 28 with social time at 6:30 and meeting at 7:00 – speaker is to be determined but we have invited a statewide candidate.

Top of the evening (meetings)

Originally I was going to make this a simple comment to Julie’s post but figured I’d rather have the forum to myself – she can feel free to link to my reaction.

I look at it this way, as a logical manner. The County Council meets twice a month and we have five months remaining until the general election – in other words, ten meetings.

Under the rules in place, two of these meetings (July 6 and October 5) would be held at night, with the other eight being morning meetings.

With the compromise measure, five meetings would be night meetings and five would be daytime. Right now, the difference is three meetings. Certainly that would be a better situation for some, but for me it wouldn’t be the ideal hill to die on. Even Prettyman is quoted as saying she has nothing against night meetings despite the fact she voted against the latest effort, which lost in a 3-3 tie because John Cannon was away tending to family matters.

My point is that we have a ready-made issue for the next election, and the dynamics are interesting.

The loudest opponents of going to a totally evening schedule have been Bill McCain and David MacLeod, both Democrats. We already know McCain isn’t running again, so presumably we can pick up a vote there.

Meanwhile, the Republicans on County Council have generally favored the switch. We all know Stevie Prettyman is running again as is Gail Bartkovich and presumably Joe Holloway. It leaves John Cannon and Sheree Sample-Hughes as swing votes; however, Sheree’s affirmative vote on the last proposal may be in some part because she is the first County Council member to draw an opponent in Dave Goslee, Jr.

Former Councilman Ed Taylor and newcomer Ryan Hohman are in the race for at-large County Council positions (one of which will open up with McCain’s departure) and their stance on the night meetings can be made into an issue as well.

So, I suppose my thought is not to sweat the small stuff but make it into an issue of good government where leadership on the concept can be rewarded this November at the ballot box.

Wicomico budget meeting finds little contention

I took this just as the hearing was concluding, just to show the lack of attendance.

Two hearings for the price of one.

Perhaps this was an exercise in civility or people are just resigned to their fate. But tonight’s public hearing concerning both the constant yield rate and FY2011 budget drew only about 70 people and little if any fireworks.

The legalese of the constant yield hearing. Translation - your taxes could be lower but we won't lower them.

Let’s begin with the constant yield hearing, where Director of Finance Patricia Petersen carefully explained the legalese which in essence told us that the county was choosing not to lower the property tax rate to that where the revenue yielded would be the same (constant yield) but instead maintaining the same rate as last year. Instead of lowering the rate to 74.91 cents per $100, the rate will stay at 75.9 cents per $100 – that extra penny gained by keeping a stable rate will net Wicomico County $683,364 in additional revenue, yet no one commented. That state-mandated hearing was over in about three minutes. So while Rick Pollitt can say he didn’t increase the tax rate, it proves the old adage that “your results may vary.”

Wicomico County Council was ready and waiting to hear comments but didn't get a lot of them.

The remainder of the meeting was conducted by Council Administrator Matt Creamer. In essence, Creamer went through each department heading and solicited comments on each, saving the school budget for last. He also reminded us the budget process allows County Council to either pass the budget as is or pass it with cuts. They also can change allocations to increase the share for education (per state law) but the total budget has to remain the same by making cuts elsewhere.

Aside from education, the largest reaction came to the library budget. Library head Tom Heyman noted that 40 percent of the public relies on the library for government information, and that social media was even having an impact on the budget – a Facebook petition to save Pittsville’s library branch had garnered over 750 signatures.

Perhaps the most self-serving portion of Heyman’s remarks was his bringing up the videos being made at library locations to beg for sparing from the budget axe. By encouraging “victims” of library cuts to make this sort of scene they’re playing for emotion rather than hard facts.

On the other hand, local observer Kim Trenka used a car analogy of a Lexus versus a Honda to make her point about funding for a new library – however, there’s no money in this operating budget for a new library. (The capital budget may be a different story.) Yet Michael Calpino, another local resident, mentioned that branch hours aren’t being cut equally – the Bivalve library branch is proposed to be open just 12 hours a week. Taking 4 hours from the Centre branch and the Pittsville branch would bring the Bivalve branch back to 20 hours, a number Calpino would be “happy with.” He also suggested a fee could be charged for those out-of-county residents who use their services, particularly at the mall-based Centre branch.

After the rest of the budget was brought up, the floor was opened to general comments and Matt Trenka stepped up. His message was that the county needed to do more with less just as the Strategic Air Command did once the BRAC Commission made its recommendations. He also chided the County Executive for having a budget which was “worthless” in its lack of specificity and documentation and warned County Council not to “drink the (executive branch) Kool-Aid.”

While she didn’t dispute the lack of budget documentation, which was the subject of what she termed an “honest article” in the Daily Times last week, County Council president Gail Bartkovich mentioned that information was now more forthcoming.

In what seemed to be a much more conciliatory tone, both Board of Education president Mark Thompson and superintendent Dr. John Fredericksen pledged to help out as they could. Thompson noted the BoE was “working diligently” on addressing the budget needs while Fredericksen added, “we’re in this together.” Both were mindful of trying to minimize the effect on what Dr. Fredericksen called the “teacher-learner interaction.” Fortunately, thanks to a number of retirements the BoE was confident they could avoid layoffs.

Even local citizen Kay Gibson, a frequent critic of the BoE, was “impressed” with the board’s willingness to make painful cuts.

But not every citizen was pleased. Local political blogger and gadfly Joe Albero was disappointed that Delmar’s experiment with year-round school would come to an end as kids didn’t tend to retain knowledge over a long summer. John Palmer repeated his call that the two at-large County Council positions be eliminated.

Despite the best efforts of Creamer to close out the hearing before I had my say, I wasn’t denied. (I think he didn’t notice I was standing in the back patiently waiting my turn.)

The points I wanted to make were regarding two things: the lack of foresight I see in the budget presentation and the idea that, if this were to be considered a rock-bottom budget, perhaps now would be a good time to adopt TABOR rules. This would limit future spending increases to a factor comprising the growth of population plus the rate of inflation, computed as a percentage – for example, if population grew 1% and inflation was 2% spending could jump no more than 3 percent. It’s a legacy I believe we can live with.

Even with my closing comments, the meeting only ran 70 minutes – compare that to previous budget hearings and I think the people know that the die is now pretty much cast. There were only a dozen speakers, including myself.

As is usual practice, County Executive Pollitt did not attend the meeting but Public Information Officer Jim Fineran did represent the office.

Wicomico’s Maryland GOP townhall

I’m sure that Audrey Scott and the Maryland GOP had an inkling of what to expect tonight because she was just here Saturday night for our Lincoln Day Dinner. Indeed, we had a pretty full house for tonight’s event.

Over 70 people were in attendance tonight for the Maryland Republican Party's town hall meeting - and not all were candidates.

As host, Wicomico County GOP chair John Bartkovich made it plain that “if you have been a Republican this is your year to run.” In fact, the setup of the town hall meeting encouraged candidates to come up and briefly say their piece – a number of them did.

Wicomico County Chair John Bartkovich welcomed those attending the town hall meeting and exhorted more citizens to step up and run for office.

But first we heard from state party Chair Audrey Scott, who commented that the GOP was “being ignored” on the local and state levels. There needed to be a better check and balance but Republicans had “no seat at the table.” All citizens benefit when there is the check and balance of a good two-party system, she continued.

Maryland state Republican Chair Audrey Scott spoke to our gathering and acted as moderator.

After successes in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, we had an opportunity in Maryland – the “Massachusetts Miracle” of Scott Brown could be a “Maryland Miracle” too. Yet one of the biggest challenges was fundraising.

Scott also commented that a year ago being state chairman “wasn’t on my radar screen” but she stepped up and began quickly “dialing for dollars” to make up the huge deficit left by her predecessors. The money was necessary because “our message has to get out there.” It’s a message that addresses the high taxes, deficit spending, and rampant unemployment currently featured by the present administration in Annapolis and Washington.

At this point we heard from a number of candidates for posts in Annapolis, most noteworthy among them District 38 Senate candidate Michael James and District 38B Delegate hopeful Mike McDermott.

District 38 Senate candidate Michael James promoted his business experience during his remarks.

James pointed out that he learned from some of the mistakes he made in running for Delegate in 2006. As he “replays the election” in his head, he’s learned to ask for help for this round. But he also noted that several of the current local issues were ones he brought up then – helping the poultry industry and toughening child predator laws were on his radar screen back then, proof that he was a “proactive rather than reactive” candidate.

McDermott used a recent example of talking to a reporter from the Salisbury University student newspaper as an opportunity to expound upon his platform planks of property rights and liberty. He also recounted how he increased services yet lowered taxes as mayor of Pocomoke City by bringing in industry. “Jobs are what Maryland needs,” stated Mike, and spending habits “need to change.”

Local candidates like County Councilwoman Gail Bartkovich also spoke.

Wicomico County Council President Gail Bartkovich repeated her announcement that she's running for her District 3 seat once again. And yes, she and the county chair are wife and husband.

She mentioned the fact that under her leadership County Council is more informed and the public better kept abreast of developments – for example, most of the content of the briefing books used by County Council for each meeting are now online. “I don’t like secrets,” said Gail. Big upcoming issues are getting an elected school board, redistricting, and the county’s comprehensive plan.

Between speakers, Audrey kept the conversation going based on topics candidates brought up. For example, after Gail brought up redistricting, Scott agreed it’s our state’s “number one issue” because that is controlled by the governor. Later on, when other citizens addressed a number of issues, Audrey opined on several of them. One passage I found interesting was her statement that, “‘Atlas Shrugged’ is happening in America.” (I happen to agree.) She also mentioned that “I fear for the future of my country and my state,” which would probably place her in agreement with most of the TEA Party participants in the room.

One of the more prominent TEA Party participants was among about a half dozen citizens who spoke.

Local AFP co-chair and blogger Julie Brewington was among those who stepped up and participated.

While the format made the public comment time somewhat limited, a number of hot-button issues came up. Most of them had to do with trust. For example, Julie was among several audience members who wanted more outreach from the GOP to the TEA Party leadership (a point I have echoed as well.) John Palmer of the local advocacy group VOICE wanted answers from Bob Ehrlich on a number of measures he enacted during his term.

Others had more national concerns. Joe Ollinger said simply that, “Michael Steele cannot be the face of the GOP” given recent party scandals. Another complained about the RNC meeting in Hawaii, but Audrey replied that the meeting had been arranged well in advance at the request of Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle. Scott also noted that “the RNC is listening like they never have before.”

She concluded by telling those assembled that our “first issue is unity” and we need to follow the Reagan 80-20 rule (agreeing with 80% of a candidate’s stances is fine.) We also need to explain the impact of current policies and not be shy about discussing politics.

Overall, the discussions didn’t come to a halt after the 90-minute session was complete as many participants discussed what was said amongst themselves. Some of the candidates continued to press the flesh as well.

Personally I think the concerned public is still a bit skeptical that the GOP has truly changed, but the problem is that as we work to gain trust the other side is working to destroy those things which made our country great. A step to regain trust is one thing but while we fiddle Rome is burning.

By the way, I wonder if we had a spy in our midst. I saw this bumper sticker on the car across from me in the parking lot:

The car had a Kratovil sticker too.

Actually, it probably belongs to one of the workers who were fixing up the HVAC or plumbing system while we were in the building. They weren’t disruptive, but the contrast of an Obama sticker in the midst of a sea of GOP cars was jarring.

Wicomico County Council approves spending others’ money

In a hardly surprising move, the Wicomico County Council voted to accept the $300,000 per acre price for five acres across to the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, spending $1.5 million in state money to purchase the land and put up a parking lot. The land had been used for years as supplemental parking for the WYCC anyway, but developers threatened to charge the county monthly rent and County Council chose not to call their bluff.

The vote was 4-3 to accept the offer, with Council President Gail Bartkovich and Councilmen Joe Holloway and Stevie Prettyman objecting. Previous to this vote, the Council did approve an amendment to make the purchase contingent on securing the promised Program Open Space money.

During the discussion preceding the vote, John Cannon asked whether the land was needed, but voted for it anyway based on the business interests behind it. Fellow Councilman Sheree Sample-Hughes termed her support as a “quality of life” issue. For his part, Bill McCain added the “stars are just right” for purchasing the land and spoke about the effort to secure the POS dollars – it was a “great deal.” David MacLeod cited a 3:1 ratio of e-mails in support vs. opposition.

On the other hand, “this is not a win-win situation for the county,” said Prettyman. Joe Holloway cited current economic condidtions  as the reason for his opposition. Similarly, Bartkovich noted she could support this in “a better time and place” but for the public “the problem is the price.”

So now we’ve allocated the money to park near a white elephant with several weaknesses – the building is showing its age (built in the late 1970’s after its predecessor burned down in a spectacular fire), its capacity is too small to attract major sporting events and big-name concerts, and due to a legal covenant no alcohol sales are allowed on the site. In a decade or so, once regional economic fortunes turn around, the building will be a relic and the county will have this land – possibly along with another 15 acres adjacent to the newly purchased site at another $250,000 per acre.

Nor is the cost of converting the land from parking to parking factored in – the new purchase means the property needs to be compliant with new state regulations for storm drainage. Overall, the newly renovated site will provide parking for about 500 cars.

Perhaps the lot can be dedicated when it’s finished, and I have the perfect name to adopt for the new additional parking which will be used maybe 50 days a year: how about “Pollitt’s Folly?”