Candidates Debate Issues At Commissioner Forum

SNOW HILL – Nine
candidates for Worcester County Commissioner answered questions Tuesday night
at a candidate forum sponsored by the Assateague Coastal Trust at Snow Hill
High School.

A second forum will be
held on Sept. 7 at Berlin Intermediate School, at 5:30.

Four of five candidates
from District 1 attended the forum: Democrat Jimmy Schoolfield, and Republicans
Jerre Clauss, Bill McDermott, and Larry Ward. Challenger Ed Lee, a Democrat
from District 2, also attended.

Commissioner Virgil
Shockley, a Democrat from District 4 and his opponent in the primary, Tommy
Tucker, along with District 5 Democratic challenger John Bodnar and District 6
incumbent Commissioner Linda Busick were also present.

A selection of questions
and the candidate’s answers, with district affiliation noted, are included
below.

Question #1: Is water quality important to the county economy? Do you
support Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans?

Bodnar (5): There is no
question the county would not have the tax base it does without the tourism
attracted by the ocean and bays, he said. TMDLs need to be looked at closely
and run-off should be kept as clean as possible. Bodnar said he would ask for
advice on water quality from environmental groups because they are the experts.

Busick (6): Water
quality is absolutely crucial to the tourism industry, which drives our
economy, Busick said. It’s very important to support TMDLs.

“It’s not a matter of
voluntary participation. It’s a requirement and we must do this,” Busick said.

Water quality would be
improved by bringing septics into public wastewater systems, or adding nutrient
removal technology, she said.

Tucker (4): “The
importance of water to our economy is a no brainer, quite honestly,” said
Tucker. He said that he is not sure that the county has much impact on TMDLs,
since state and federal agencies control those. Improving water quality is a
matter of education, he said.

Shockley (4): Of course,
water quality is important for the tourism industry, Shockley said. TMDLs are
the law and the county has small chance of any input.

Lee (2): Lee agrees that
water quality is important to the county’s tourism economy. He has served on
the Maryland Coastal Bays Advisory Committee and is fully aware of water
quality questions, he said. He would speak to local experts and make the best
judgment on water quality if elected.

Ward (1): The county
needs to get the bay waters cleaned up to bring back clams, oysters and sea
grasses to support more sea life, which will bring in more fishing tourism and
even commercial fishing. The county needs more sediment ponds to catch dirt
before it washes into the coastal bays and needs to plant wild willows along
ditches to absorb nutrients before they wash into the bays.

McDermott (1): “I’m not
familiar that much with watersheds,” he said. The commissioners should go to
the experts for advice.

Clauss (1): The
commissioners should look at empirical evidence, study information and make a
decision on water quality questions. Water quality improvements need to be
financially appropriate.Tourism is important, for the bays, the ocean and the
Pocomoke river.

Schoolfield (1): “Our
water quality is our means of life,” he said. Water needs to be clean for
fishing and crabbing. The county should work with the EPA to keep local
waterways clean, and people need to be taught how to do their part. Education
is the number one way to make sure local waters improve, he said.

Question #2: Should
the County Commissioners be more transparent, and make meeting agendas and
packets available to the public when the commissioners receive them?

Busick (6): She would
like to be given meeting information herself earlier than Friday, to give her
more time to study and ask staff for information. However, she said the public
should not get the information the same day as the commissioners because she
does not want the newspapers to speculate on what’s going to happen at the
commissioner meeting.

Busick said that videotaping
meetings is fine with her. She said that she holds workshops to explain issues
to people and she’d like to see more held. People should have the opportunity
to comment at the end of the commissioner meetings with time limits.

Tucker (4): Tucker said he
is very in favor of transparency. “In politics, transparency is simply a way of
holding public officials accountable and fight corruption,” Tucker said. “To do
anything less gives an attitude or air of secrecy.”

Shockley (4): The
meeting packets are available to commissioners sometimes Friday afternoon,
sometimes that night, and sometimes not until Saturday, Shockley said, with
agendas and the packet to be posted to the website for the public by Monday at
noon. When Shockley was president of the commissioners, he made sure the
agendas changed to show more detail on topics and when they would be discussed.
“I don’t have any problems with broadcasting. I think it would be boring,”
Shockley said.

Lee (2): “I believe in
participatory democracy,” Lee said. When the public comes into the commissioner

meetings, they are not allowed to open their mouths and make public comments.                “I think that’s criminal … I

recommend strongly opening the commissioners’ meeting to the public in an
orderly fashion,” said Lee. The agendas and packets should be available to the
public earlier, he said.

Ward (1): The
commissioners should post their personal phone numbers and e-mail addresses
online. If the county went to a four-day work week, meetings could be held at 5
p.m. on Fridays so the public could attend more easily.

McDermott (1): “You’ve
hit a button with me. No more closed door meetings, Nothing happens behind
closed doors,” he said. Even personnel issues should be in public, he believes.
The county should also videotape meetings. “People should be able to say
something,” he said. If not, the commissioners should hold a public comment
session once a quarter.

Clauss (1): While he
agrees with transparency, he does have concerns about personnel matters, which
should be kept private.

Schoolfield (1): He
supports transparency. The voters should be informed and should see their
commissioner every day. “We should be going into our community all the time,”
he said.

Bodnar (5): The
commissioners have a right to hold meetings in private, but the public meetings
should be televised.

Question #3: Do you
support getting discharges out of waterways and using land application of
effluent? Do you support county purchase of land for land application? Should
sewer treatment plants with extra capacity be used to bring septic systems
online?

Tucker (4): He said he
supports the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, which requires land application.
He is not in favor of bringing septic systems online because of the cost to the
homeowners.

Shockley (4): He said he
agrees with the spray irrigation aspects of the Comprehensive Plan. A sewer
line is being extended to Showell Elementary School from the Ocean Pines sewage
plant, and there are many properties along that line that would like to tie in.
If the capacity is available, that should be looked at, he said.

Lee (2): “I support
spray irrigation,” Lee said. He said he agrees with Shockley on the septic hook
ups.

Ward (1): He agrees with
spray irrigation if used on animal feed crops, not crops intended for human
food. “It needs to go full circle,” he said. Buying land for land application
is a good idea, he said, and septic hook ups should take place in land that has
been annexed to a town.

McDermott (1): He
supports land application. The county should look at land it already owns for
land application use. He said he does not want to force people to hook up to
public sewer if they live outside of town. People can also use closed septic
systems that need to be pumped out instead of drain fields.

Clauss (1): Land application
makes good sense, he said. It is cost prohibitive to hook septic systems up to
public sewer.

“They don’t want it,” he

said. “There’s going to be an awful lot of opposition to this.”     

Schoolfield (1): He
supports spray irrigation if the land is in the right area.

Bodnar (5): He agrees
with land application. Bringing septics online is a catch-22.

“When it’s feasible, I’d
like to see that happen. That can only improve things in the long run,” Bodnar
said.

Busick (6): She said she
has always been a proponent of spray irrigation, which is part of why she ran
for commissioner initially. Reducing pollution by bringing septic online is a
good idea, she said. The county would do everything it could to find grants to
fund septic hook ups. Nutrient removal technology can also be added to septic
systems in the critical area with grant funding, she said. Developers or
municipalities should bear the cost of buying spray land, she said.

Question #4 (from the
audience): Should the Liquor Control Board (LCB) be reformed or eliminated?

Ward (1): The county
should not get rid of the LCB, because it would lose revenue without liquor
sales.

McDermott (1): The LCB
should become a public, not government, concern, which would let the buyers and
the industry control prices.

Clauss (1): Clauss said
he thinks the LCB should be disbanded and small businesses allowed to take over
all liquor sales in Worcester County, which would bring in taxes.

Schoolfield (1): If
there is any wrongdoing found, and the issues cannot be worked out, it should
be disbanded, he said.

Bodnar (5): “My belief
is the county shouldn’t be in the liquor business,” Bodnar said. “It’s outlived
itself.” The county needs to look at alternative revenue sources and see if
that funding can be made up.

Busick (6): The LCB has
outlived its usefulness, Busick said, but the voters should decide whether to
retain the LCB through a referendum. She said she would support legislation to
disband the LCB.

Tucker (4): Getting rid
of the LCB would be a classic example of killing the golden goose, Tucker said.
If there has been any wrongdoing, it should be dealt with accordingly.

Shockley (4): In the
last 16 years, the county has held two referendums on the LCB and both times
the people voted to keep the LCB. The commissioners do not control the LCB, he
noted. “What’s going to replace the revenue source if you throw it out?”
Shockley said.

Lee (2): The LCB needs
to be re-organized and restructured, Lee said. Some people are satisfied with
the LCB, he noted. Disbanding the liquor board would leave some people without
jobs. Lee said he has been told that the business community has suggested the
revenue loss might be made up through licensing fees.

Question #5 (from the
audience): Would you support a 5-cent tax increase with the revenue to go
directly to the Worcester County Board of Education?

McDermott (1): “Right
now, I don’t support that,” he said. Children are the most important thing,
McDermott said, but he has to look at county spending in black and white before
considering any changes.

Clauss (1): He does not
support the extra 5 cents in the tax rate, he said. Although he is not well
versed in school board budgets, he has many ideas and feels there should be
more accountability.

Schoolfield (1): He

would support a 5- or even 10-cent tax increase to benefit the schools. “The children are our future,” he said.

Bodnar (5): Such a tax
increase for education should go to referendum to let the voters decide. “If
they want to add that on, so be it,” Bodnar said.

Busick (6): She does not
support an increase in taxes for the schools. “We have people that can’t make
their bills now. It’s not the time to raise taxes,” Busick said.

Tucker (4): He said that
such a tax increase for public schools might be a moot point, since Maryland
could receive substantial federal funding from Race to the Top. [The details on
the RTTT funding were not available Tuesday night]. Tucker did not say whether
he would support or reject such a tax increase.

Shockley (4): Shockley
said he would not vote to raise property taxes.

Lee (2): While he always
supports education, he is not proposing to throw money at the schools.

Ward (1): He does not
support any tax increase. People cannot afford more taxes, he said.

                 

                               

 

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