Requires no commentary from me. The reader can make up their own mind who was the best prepared and most articulate, has a clear vision, and the best background for the County Executive position.
From the Business Monthly
The three announced candidates for Howard County executive tackled their approach to business issues at the Columbia Business Exchange's annual State of Columbia luncheon last month.
This was the first opportunity for Democrats Harry Dunbar and Ken Ulman and Republican Chris Merdon to speak at length on business and economic issues in a joint appearance.
The candidates were asked to respond to three questions about their qualifications, their records supporting business and the key issues facing business in the next four years.
Dunbar, a retired federal employee and a real estate broker, cited both his mature age and government experience. Merdon, a vice president of a Fortune 500 government computer contractor with two terms on the County Council, cited his work ethic and bipartisan leadership. Ulman, a lawyer with a practice in elder law who has served one term on the council, talked about his own leadership in pushing a better plan for downtown Columbia.
"I have lived nearly twice as long as my young opponents," Dunbar, 61, said to laughter, giving him "10 times, 20 times, 100 times more life experience." He opposed the "dumb residential growth that my opponents have continued to support. — Our overcrowded public schools are the reasons why taxes went up 30%."
Hard Work, Leadership
Merdon, 35, said that starting as a paper boy at age 9, "I've worked hard my entire life. — Nothing has ever been given to me." He touted his private sector experience as a manager of 100 people working on federal contracts worth $20 million, and as someone who represents "the views of mainstream Howard County residents." The two-term council member is the only minority party chairman of the County Council in its history, he noted, and "I am the only candidate capable of getting along with both sides."
"I will transform the role [of county executive] from one of a caretaker to one of a visionary," Merdon said.
Born and raised in Columbia, Ulman, 31, touted his earlier role as the governor's director on the state Board of Public Works, which approves all state contracts. "I understand how the state government works with the local government and with the private sector," he said.
Ulman said he was able to "bring people together and build consensus" in planning for Columbia's town center. "We wanted to see a plan that would build business opportunities" in downtown, create "livable, walkable streets," and make the Merriweather Post Pavilion, which was up for sale 18 months ago, "a business and tourism center for Howard County."
Record of Business Support
Merdon said he had "a seven-year track record of supporting business in Howard County. When I come to speak to a group of business owners, I feel like I have the home-field advantage. What you do everyday is what I do everyday. What you want out of government is predictability. You want to know what the rules are. We all hope to make a profit."
"If I hear you have a problem with the county, I'm going to help you solve that problem," Merdon said. "If I don't hear from you, my administration will be under strict orders to stay out of your way – let you do what you do best and that is create jobs, bring investment dollars into Howard County and help us support our No. 1 school system."
Ulman said he is "very proud in working together in supporting the business community over the last three-and-a-half years. You know I am a small business owner. I own my own law firm based in town center.
"Whenever Dick Story has come to us with something for our support and help, I've been there, we've been there, whether it's Dreyer's Ice Cream [plant] or other opportunities," Ulman said. "I understand the importance of working together with the business community in keeping jobs here and to bring more jobs here.
"We passed a bill about a year-and-a-half ago called comp lite, sprung out of the comprehensive zoning effort – about 40 properties were involved," Ulman said. "We voted for that bill 4 to 1; my opponent [Merdon] voted against it. There are many business leaders whose projects are now held up in limbo because of that vote." (The bill was petitioned to referendum by residents who opposed it.)
Revitalizing Route 1
On Route 1 revitalization, "there's been a lot of great talk, a lot of great meetings, a lot of great studies," Ulman said. "We need the first projects to be built. — We need people to drive down Route 1 and open their eyes and say, 'Wow, that's what they were talking about when they were talking about Route 1 revitalization.' That to me will start a domino effect of reshaping the Corridor, changing the culture of the Corridor.
"We had an opportunity to do that a few weeks ago; we had a rezoning case, the corner of Mission Road and Route 1," Ulman said. "A great mixed-use project, 50,000-square-foot office building, street-front retail, brick sidewalk, condos above, 50 workforce housing units, 340 residential units, condos and townhouses. We supported that project 4 to 1. Once again, my opponent voted against it. That's the kind of project, if we get built, we'll start reshaping the Route 1 Corridor, turning rhetoric into action."
Dunbar said, "I look forward to working closely with the business community as Howard County's next executive around supporting the efforts to increase the number of successful businesses that will provide jobs and increase our commercial tax base."
"I support the Howard County [Economic] Development Authority's concept of the need for a new building that could house its center for business and technology development. This center could include both the business resource center and the neo-tech incubator," Dunbar said. "It could capture a significant amount of the technology of the business growth planned for NSA and Fort Meade."
Top Three Issues
Ulman said the main issues in the next few years are land use, regionalism and the quality of life, and the challenges they present. "We are right in the middle of the Baltimore-Washington region, the region that is adding more jobs than any region in the country, and with BRAC [Base Realignment and Closure] coming online, the potential is absolutely tremendous, so this is a wonderful place to be. But it also means we've got a lot of challenges ahead.
"The growth needs to be managed and Howard County needs to work closely with neighboring counties in doing that.
"We have so many things to be proud of: a school system that is second to none, a library system that has just been ranked No. 1 in the country. — The challenge is, 'How do we maintain the strength of that quality of life? What are the threats to that quality of life?'" Ulman asked.
"Frankly, poorly planned growth that can overwhelm our infrastructure is a major threat to our quality of life," he said. "Drastic budget cuts to the library, schools, public safety are a threat. I know that some people will make an issue of taxes in this election. Yeah, I voted to raise taxes because I couldn't stomach the drastic cuts to our library budget of over 10% and the drastic cuts to our Board of Education budget which would not have allowed us to fund teacher salary increases.
"I guarantee you that I'll work every day to make sure to preserve and protect that quality of life," Ulman concluded.
Quality of Life
Dunbar said, "I'm one of those who believes the quality of life has deteriorated over the last eight years under these gentlemen's tutelage. They seem to be unable to tell developers 'no' when they come in for repeated requests for increased density.
"Over the next four years, business will require more strategic partnering, access to equity and debt capital and market research facilities and help," Dunbar said. "As county executive I will stay out of businesses' way. But when business comes and seeks county help, I will provide that help. I will use my life experience and my federal experience, which has provided me with a view that no one else has in Howard County."
Responding to the criticism of his opponents, Merdon said, "You know you're doing something right when one candidate tells you you vote 'no' too much and the next candidate tells you don't vote 'no' enough. So I'm probably the right middle-of-the-road guy."
On the main issues, Merdon said, "It depends, it depends on who you elect as your next county executive. For the next four years, do you want to play offense or do you want to play defense? For the next four years, when you're just about to make a profit, to kick that ball through the [uprights], do you want local government shifting the goal posts on you, [or] do you want local government moving the boundary lines on you? I don't think so.
"What you'll get under my administration is predictability," he said. "Predictability is the most important thing for businesses to be able to thrive."
Based on his own conversations with businesses, Merdon said, "Workforce is probably the biggest issue that they're facing at all levels," particularly at the lower end of the pay scale. "How are you going to go out and sell your product, get a sale and bring it back home, and then have nobody that's going to make your product? You can't do it. [You] can't expand your business without a quality workforce.
"BRAC is going to have a tremendous impact on our region," he said. "We have the greatest opportunity to take from BRAC what we want and to put the things that we don't want off to the side. But we have to have a plan for BRAC and right now we don't have a plan.
"We need to make sure that our roads don't continue to be over-congested," Merdon said. "Over-congested roads mean that your employees don't get to work on time, they're worrying about what the traffic is going to be like on their way home. Over-congested roads will hamper your ability to do business.
"Those are going to very important issues and I have the experience to understand the history of where we've been and to set the vision of where we need to go," he said.
Finally, Merdon said, the next executive needs "to make sure that we are prepared for any disaster. We've all experienced 9/11, and we've all seen Katrina. We've seen what a failure of government can do. It'll shut you down if you're not prepared."