Berlin Election Preview; Candidate Introductions

BERLIN – With five mayoral candidates and three council seats up for grabs, officials are expecting a strong voter turnout in Tuesday’s municipal election.

Polls in Berlin will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday for the 2020 municipal election. As a result of COVID-19, face coverings will be required at the polls and social distancing will be in effect.

“We anticipate a fairly large turnout,” said Mary Bohlen, the town’s administrative services director. “Anytime an election is contested there tends to be a higher turnout.”

In the 2016 municipal election, Mayor Gee Williams received 588 votes, defeating challenger Lisa Hall who received 137 votes. In that same election District 3 Councilman Elroy Brittingham ran unopposed and in District 2 Councilman Zack Tyndall defeated Jack Orris, 185 votes to 116.

This year, voters in Districts 1 and 2 should report to Buckingham Presbyterian Church on South Main Street to cast their ballots. Voters in District 3 and 4 should visit the Berlin Police Department on Decatur Street to vote. Absentee ballots will be accepted until the close of polls at 7 p.m. Bohlen said that as of Wednesday she’d processed 97 absentee voting applications. In years past, absentee applications have averaged around 30.

Positions to be decided in this year’s election include mayor as well as council seats in District 2, District 3 and the at-large position.

Bohlen added that even though council seats in District 1 and 4 are not up for election this year, voters in those districts can still vote for mayor and the at-large representative.

“Voters in all four districts will vote for mayor and at-large,” Bohlen said. “Sometimes people think if their district isn’t up they don’t get to vote.”

Mayoral candidates include incumbent Gee Williams, Jennifer Allen, Ron Bireley, Bill Todd and Zack Tyndall. The unopposed District 2 candidate is Jack Orris while District 3 candidates are Shaneka Nichols and Daniel Packey. For the at-large position, voters can choose between Jay Knerr and Tony Weeg.

Here are the introductions each of the candidates provided during virtual town hall sessions hosted in September by The Dispatch.

Mayor Candidates

Jennifer Allen: Hello everyone. My name is Jennifer Allen. My husband and I purchased our home five years ago. Following our retirement we moved to Berlin in April of 2016. I am a registered nurse and I have extensive leadership and administrative experience. This information is available on LinkedIn and my name on LinkedIn is Jennifer (Jennie) Allen. Following the 2019 decision to raise taxes I became interested in what has been happening in Berlin and began attending all of the town council meetings and subsequently decided to run for mayor. Due to the pandemic I realized it would not be appropriate for me to go around and knock and talk so I decided on post cards to reach the citizens of Berlin. I chose to use every door direct mailing and I’m going out to the four major routes in the Berlin area. Unfortunately, as I have found, the delivery has not been perfect and many people are telling me that they have not been receiving the post card. So as an FYI there have been three post cards sent to date and a fourth one is coming out next week. So what I want to show you, you should have gotten this first post card, this is an introduction, the next post card is all about Heron Park then on the back I talk to you about quality and Six Sigma tools for process improvement and then the third post card that went out is a money jar and that’s about taxes and budgets and on the back I talk to you about why you should be watching online council meetings. If you have not received your post card please contact me at [email protected] and I will get them to you. Thank you very much for spending this time with me.

Bill Todd: Hi I’m Bill Todd I’ve been born and raised in the area. I’ve been living in Berlin proper for about 10 years now. Quite frankly I’m running for mayor just because I’m tired of the way things have been going a little bit. I’ve taken nothing from this town but great memories and experiences and I’d like to keep it that way. I’ve worked in many different capacities all over the place. I’ve worked in radio for seven years, I’ve up til recently have been working for Burley Oak Brewing Company here in town so I’ve been around town long enough to really understand some of the ins and outs of how things go and how some of the things should go. I’m doing this out of the genuine love I have for the town and the citizens in it and I couldn’t be happier to have this opportunity to be before you all tonight. Thank you so much.

Ron Bireley: Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Ron Bireley. I was born and raised just outside of the corporate limits of the town. I graduated from Stephen Decatur High School and eventually went into the military where I served eight and a half years on active duty in the United States Army. Two of those years I spent in the Republic of South Vietnam. When I retired from the military I went to school and got my undergraduate degree and then my masters degree   and then I went to work for the Town of Berlin. I was administrative director for approximately five and a half years. I followed that with a tour as a councilmember and then I was elected as mayor. I was called back in by a special vote by the council to a second term as mayor albeit as a part-time, a shorter term, and then I was finance director for approximately 14 years.

Gee Williams: I was born and raised in Berlin. I spent most of my life here except for the years that I attended college or served in the U.S. Army reserve as a staff sergeant. I graduated from Chesapeake College in Wye Mills with an associate’s degree and then I earned my bachelor’s degree in business and journalism at the University of Maryland College Park. My wife Betsy and I have been residents of the town of Berlin now for 46 years. My daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are also lifelong residents of Berlin. For 30 years, I’ve enjoyed a career as a local newspaper journalist, editor and publisher. Since that time I’ve served as the community liaison for the State Highway Administration and the marketing and development director for the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore. For the past 12 years I have devoted my lifetime of experience to serving as the mayor of Berlin. I believe that prior to that I served four years on the town council. So I started covering the Berlin mayor and council as a reporter and editor and have spent the majority of the Monday nights of my lifetime in town hall, first reporting as a journalist and later as a town councilman and mayor. I’m seeking election and I’m seeking your support to serve one final term as your mayor.

Zack Tyndall: I want to thank The Dispatch for hosting this virtual forum and for the important opportunity for the Berlin residents to be able to hear from all five of the candidates running for mayor. I also want to thank everyone that’s tuning in to the forum and taking an active role in this election. Your voice, your participation and your vote truly do matter. As Steve mentioned my name is Zack Tyndall and I’m running to be your next mayor. I’m a lifelong resident of the town of Berlin, a homeowner, husband, father, four-year councilmember and dedicated public servant to the town of Berlin. My service to Berlin began 16 years ago as a cadet with the Berlin Fire Company and progressed into a career serving many of you as a firefighter/paramedic.  I have a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s degree in management and finance. As your councilmember I’ve worked diligently to make sure the people of Berlin have a voice in their local government. I have also stood up for my constituents and I’ve not been afraid to ask questions and do research. When we experienced a double-digit tax increase by the current administration I was the only councilmember to propose a path forward that didn’t involve raising your taxes. All while not cutting jobs or services. The question that every voter needs to ask themselves on October 6th is what type of town do we want to be and what kind of future do we want to build together? As Berlin’s next mayor I want our town to be a safe, financially sustainable and well-maintained community. For too long, our town’s focus has centered around the downtown area. Berlin goes beyond just Main Street. We have many vibrant neighborhoods that make up Berlin and we need a mayor that can bring us all closer together. I ask for your vote and your support on Tuesday, October 6th.

Council Candidates

Shaneka Nichols: I’m Shaneka Nichols. I’m from Berlin originally, raised here my whole life, 45 years—I’m not ashamed to say 45. Grew up here, went to Stephen Decatur High School, went off to college, got married directly after. Did a year of AmeriCorps, came back, started a family, right here in my same neighborhood, literally on the same street, and have lived in the same house now I guess for just under 20 years. I’m a mother of six, grandma as well. I work for Worcester County Public Schools. I’ve been in education, between early childhood, from infancy to grade six, for 13 years or so, taking time off to be with my own children, and ran a small business in between and now I’m back in public school.

Daniel Packey. I’m a newcomer here. Just recently came. The reason I’m here is because my daughter and grandchildren are here and so my wife and I wanted to be close to them. My background history is I was a professor of economics for Curtin University and head of their Department of Mineral and Energy Economics. I was the head of department at Gulf University for Science and Technology for economics and finance. I worked for the International Copper Association which deals with 80% of the world’s copper. I was their director of market research and market intelligence for 29 offices all the way around the world.   I understand clean energy because I worked for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory as their senior utility economist and was responsible for putting them in the ground. I also wrote, or coauthored, the manual for evaluation of renewable energy and energy efficiency that is currently being used today. To wrap it up I worked for the DC Public Service Commission dealing with integrated resource planning. I’ve done some other stuff but that’s the stuff that’s relevant.

Jay Knerr: First I want to start off by thanking The Dispatch for hosting this forum. It’s our one chance to get the word out to the masses so thanks for doing it. My name is Jay Knerr. I am a 20-year resident of Berlin. I live here with my wife Mary Lynn and together we own the Kite Loft in Ocean City. We raised our daughter, who’s now 25, she grew up here and enjoyed the community very much. So during my 20 years living here I’ve been involved in numerous boards and committees. I was a past president of the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce, past president of the Ocean City Development Corporation. I’m currently on the paramedic foundation for Ocean City, I’m also on the board of trustees for Atlantic General Hospital. I’m on the board of zoning appeals for Berlin and I am the current chairman for the Worcester County Planning Commission. I have a wealth of experience, I have leadership skills and I have the vision to be a very successful Berlin councilman and I hope you vote for me on Oct. 6.

Tony Weeg: Hello everyone and good evening. First of all thank you to The Dispatch for hosting all of us and everyone who is watching this thank you for tuning in. For those of you who do not know me I am Tony Weeg and I am a 47-year-old father of three. My wife and I and those girls and our chickens and our dog and our cat exist in a place we call heaven and that’s Bay Street. I am currently a photographer and videographer and I get to travel the world. I get to see a lot of places, a lot of people and a lot of things. One thing that I have not found anywhere else in this world except for in Berlin is the community that is Berlin and the things that make up our community and the ingredients that make up that community. Those ingredients are very exciting to me as a person who planning on retiring there. Planning on raising my three daughters. Going to Buckingham—going to BES, then BIS, then going to Stephen Decatur. I can’t explain to you what that means to us. As far as me, I am a pragmatic thinker, I like to look at the situations at hand and I like to fix them with things around me. I’m a connector of people. I’m a facilitator of situations and experiences for people to meet people, to learn new things, to be involved, to sort of gain new experiences that maybe they may not have had the access to. That leads me to why I’m here and why I’m mostly here. It was a drive down 113 that my daughter looked over into the soybean field that’s near the Food Lion, and I had no explanation for her, why the people walk across the field to get to the Food Lion to go to work, why there’s no crosswalk at Route 113. That bothered me to the point where I figured I had to do something for this town that I love and I could start there and see where I could go. That’s led me to meet so many people, hear so many things. And that’s me. I look forward to listening to you and being your new at-large councilman for the Town of Berlin.

Jack Orris: I’d also like to thank The Dispatch for hosting this opportunity for residents to hear all the candidates. Originally I’m from western PA where I earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and have been a resident of Berlin for 14 years. I’ve always had a desire to serve. My professional background includes work in customer service, office and operations management and I currently work at the Worcester County Health Department. All of those jobs have given me skills in public speaking, management and working with people of all backgrounds and experiences. My desire to serve is one of the reasons I’m running and I believe I have the skills and real life experience to offer the residents of the town. I’ve attended various town meetings, committee and board meetings, over the years, and council meetings regularly now for about five years. Currently I serve as a member of the board of directors of the Berlin Heritage Foundation, chair of the Calvin B. Taylor House Outreach Committee, and vice chair of the Heron Park Advisory Committee.  Through those opportunities I’ve also been able to hone experience with budgets and looking for ways to save and use monies wisely and effectively. We have various topics we’re going to talk about here tonight that everyone is concerned about and I’m looking forward to delving into those issues. The bottom line to remember though is that we are a community and we’ll continue to set goals for the future together. One of the definitions of community from Merriam Webster is a body of persons or nations having a common history or common social economic and political interests. I believe our common interest is our charm and the biggest and best part of this town is the people working together for the future.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.