Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events Candidate Forum

Posted by David Keelan on Thursday, April 6, 2006 held their forum last evening at the Glenwood library. It was very well attended and Barry Tevlov should be commended for the effort. He gave me a seat as a panelist on the Council District 5 portion of the forum. A couple days prior to the forum we agreed that I should not participate in the County Executive forum given my public and enthusiastic support for Merdon. I give him a great deal of credit for protecting the integrity of the forum and the opportunity for me to participate.

Now on with it.

As David Wissing said. Pretty standard responses to pretty standard questions. I haven't read Evan's post on this yet. I did get to meet him, but I didn't really get to speak with him as I wanted to get home to the family and a new episode of LOST. I hope we can catch up later. You can read his comments on his Howard County Blog – he says he will post them tonight. HayDuke, where are you?

County Executive

In the opening statements the best line was Chris Merdon’s “Quality of life is not measured by a line item in the budget.” Mr. Ulman said later on that he didn’t like that comment. I guess not, it goes right to the heart of the issue.

David Wissing recalled a tense moment when Ken Ulman was talking about founding the Ulman Cancer Foundation and thought he saw a “woman” rolling her eyes. She quickly denied it. I thought that was a rather defensive reaction on Mr. Ulman’s part. It is easy to misinterpret body language – he should have let it go. However, I have to give Mr. Ulman a lot of credit for coming to a Western Howard County Candidate forum a.k.a GOP forum. He had a pressing schedule, told Barry he had a previous commitment. To his credit he came to “hostile territory” on a very tight schedule. To me it showed that he will be a very serious campaigner (I had my doubts – and I shouldn’t have given what he did to Joan Lancos).

On Growth and Development

Chris Merdon coined this phrase and I heard it all night in the Executive and Council forums “Predictable Growth”. Don’t change the rules on people. People made decisions on buying homes, school choices, etc based upon zoning laws and expect that the County provides them a reasonable assurance that their decision is valid. When a property is zoned for 8 houses and then the County zones it for 25 houses “That is a quality of life issue” Merdon said.

Ken Ulman couldn’t disagree. He went to talk about a new model of citizen participation in community planning a reference to Town Center. Thankfully he didn’t go into Town Center too much. He is smart – Western Howard County could give a rats arse about Columbia.

Harry Dunbar blamed Robey, Merdon, and Ulman for the mess.

Politicizing the County Web Site
Thankfully they touched on this lightly. An issue blown way out of proportion. When I expected Ulman to trash Merdon on this he didn’t. Ulman said it is a fine line and the closer we get to an election the more politicized the perception is. I agree. Merdon said that over the past 8 years the County has provided more and more excellent tools, and took credit for legislation requiring the County to put more public documents on the site. If he is responsible for that good for him – because you will find a lot of valuable information on the County Web Site. I use it all the time for this blog.

Emergency Preparations and Citizen Response

Standard answers. Ulman made the point that Howard County may not be a target, but we are an evacuation area. People fleeing DC or Baltimore are coming to or through Howard County which will tax and stretch our resources. I think Merdon understood this too, but I wish he would have said it first. Probably the only time I nodded in agreement with Ulman.

Management and Leadership Style

Merdon sounded like someone who has been managing a great deal of people for a long time. The principles he articulated (rather easily as an experienced manager should).
Lead by example. The people one leads look and expect that in a leader so don’t shy away from it. Set annual goals, reach out and communicate with employees, set direction but seek input so all employees feel that they own the goals and the results. In Government it is slightly different. The County Executive also has to lead the citizens and that requires disappointing some people some times, especially when hard decisions are required. Merdon launched into his resume and management experience in a Fortune 500 company, and the difficulty of managing over 2,000 county employees and 23 various departments, and a $1 billion budget.
Ulman, thinks that character is more important than management experience. He would appoint strong directors to the County Agencies. Sorry, a very weak answer. Yes, character counts – Merdon has a great deal of character. Harry Dunbar is a character. Character is not leadership.

Developer Contributions
Harry Dunbar won’t accept them.
Merdon and Ulman were of the same opinion. Developers are not the end all be all, but they have an important voice and role in government. The both said they get support from a lot of different business sectors and Merdon said 66% (according to the Baltimore Sun) of his contributions comes from individuals. He said the best check he got was $20 from a 17 year old who told him that though he couldn’t vote in November he wanted to help because he trusted what Merdon was doing. Ulman got up to reply and talk about his favorite $20 check. He got lost in his remarks and so did I.

A yes/no session followed. No one gave yes/no answers though.

Do you have future political aspirations?
Ulman was the only one who didn’t answer the question. Dunbar and Merdon both said “this is it for me”.
Is money key to a quality education?
Standard reply was that we need well paid teachers and parent participation.

County Council District Five

Here are the questions I asked:

County Executive Robey vetoed Councilman Feaga’s proposed assessment cap legislation and has his own three cent tax rate cut proposal. Which proposal do you believe was better for taxpayers and why?

No real answers here. Greg Fox got closer to anyone in answering the question. He said he looked at numbers both ways and to him it came down to “it depends”. Then he said he would prefer an income tax reduction.

Livesay said we couldn’t afford both. That wasn’t the question. HoCoHayDuke, Wissing and I thrashed this one out over a couple of days. If any of the candidates wants to develop a position on this all the information they need is there.

The Spending Affordability Committee projects that the County will continue to realize revenue growth in the next fiscal year and beyond. In fact the County is projected to run a $20 million surplus this fiscal year. Granted no one wants to run deficits, but what is your opinion on County Government running surpluses, and what should be done about it? For example, would you support increasing the operating budget in order to meet projected revenues?

Again not much of an answer except that Greg Fox did say “Government should not be running surpluses. If they are then taxes are too high”. Livesay and Dun would reinvest the money into the community. Sorry, wrong answer. When we have surplus dollars we can’t rebate it to the taxpayer. It has to go to one time expenditures (usually capital expenditures or debt relief). Something has to be done now in order to ensure that the County is taking what they need and no more than that.

Will you support all other candidates in your party in their election campaigns? Why or why not?

Again, Greg Fox was the only one providing a real answer. He would emphatically support his party’s candidates. He got up twice to say so. Now this question was designed for Mr. Livesay given his party switching and loyalty to Mr. Robey. I didn’t expect the answer I wanted but I expected an answer that was firm. Next time he gets that question (and you can bet your last dollar he will hear that question 40 more times) he better have a prepared answer – Wayne you should have seen it coming.

I appreciated Greg Fox’s answer, but the answer I wanted to hear was this “If I am fortunate enough to represent the GOP in the general election then as the GOP candidate and public face for the Republican party I will firmly commit my time to all of the party’s candidates”. Greg, are you reading this. Write it down.

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