With the 2014 Gubernatorial Primary Election just a few weeks away, The Dagger invited all Harford County candidates for local and state offices to answer the same three questions designed to help voters in each council and legislative district evaluate their choices. Candidates were told that their responses would be published verbatim in a Q&A format and with no restrictions on length, to let the candidates communicate as directly as possible with the voters they seek to represent.
The voter registration books close Tuesday (June 3), early voting runs June 12-19, and Primary Election Day is June 24 from 7am-8pm. Those candidates who prevail on June 24 will advance to face rivals from opposing political parties (including Independent and 3rd parties) in the General Election on November 4.
With thanks to all participants, we begin with the Harford County Council President Democratic Primary Election race, where former county council and congressional candidate Christopher Boardman of Joppa faces Harford County Board of Education member James Thornton of Churchville.
Dagger: County council members often make decisions in areas where they may not have expertise, such approving tax increment financing proposals, expanding the development envelope, or approving multi-million dollar capital projects. Briefly describe the experience/skills you would bring to the county council and how you make decisions in areas outside your expertise.
Boardman: Common sense. Most people who talk about their expertise in managing million dollar budgets simply want to impress other people, but maybe they really have poor judgment about a lot of ways to spend the money. Mr. Thornton missed the boat about teacher pay until it seemed popular, and he was in favor of pay-go, even though he currently sits on the school board and wants everyone to think he is a super executive. We need fewer people who are highly impressed with themselves and are more inclined to use common sense.
Thornton: With over 35 years of professional experience in two very distinct industries, retail and financial services, I am fortunate to bring extensive business and organizational knowledge to the Council.
In my professional career, I have been involved in many of the issues that the Council is confronted with in discharging its responsibilities as the legislative branch of government (oversight for the deployment of funds). For example, I have been involved with the allocation of funding as the vice president of an enterprise investing millions of dollars to build facilities or to expand business opportunities. In addition, I served as a director of global enterprise (Visteon Corporation) that invested hundreds of millions in building capacity to meet the manufacturing needs of an eight-billion dollar company.
Recognizing that there are areas of the Council’s work with which I have limited experience (zoning and planning), I would engage the expertise of the in-house professionals, as well as discuss the issues with all constituents. If for some reason, I deemed it to be in the best interest of the county, I would recommend retaining consultants. The use of consultants would be limited to those projects or analyses that would require a neutral, third-party review and recommendation.
It addition to my professional experience, I bring over 24 years of service to numerous civic and community organizations as a resident of Harford County. It is through that level of community involvement that I have developed a keen understanding and awareness of the needs of the community and of the relationships necessary to truly represent the people of Harford County.
Dagger: Please cite a previous decision by the Harford County Council with which you either strongly agree or disagree, and why.
Boardman: The Harford County Council approved Executive Craig’s plans to continue on a construction spree and ignore taking care of the needs of the school teachers. Schools are teachers and students, not buildings primarily. This is a matter of government arrogance and disregard of the teachers and it should be corrected.
Thornton: I strongly oppose the County Council’s recent introduction of Bill 14-21 to amend the County Charter to eliminate County Council’s role as the final authority on zoning appeals, a role which the Council has had for over 40 years. I am baffled as to why this bill has been introduced, other than the recent controversial zoning issues (Wal-mart move to Plumtree or the Eva-Mar project), which have created a public outcry. It would appear that Council members would like to shield themselves from the controversy. This legislation places a financial burden on future appellants that is unjustifiable due to the final authority being placed on the circuit court.
My recommendation is that this Council not move forward on the bill at this time. I would prefer the new Council make the determination, with the vote of its constituents, as to whether the current policy needs to be changed. I don’t see any pressing need to move on this matter at this time.
Dagger: The Harford County Council is charged with certain responsibilities. Among them are: Enacting legislation, adopting the budget, overseeing the redistricting process, and serving as the Zoning Board of Appeals. Looking ahead, what issues within the council’s purview are of specific interest or concern to you and why? Please cite two issues.
Boardman: I have been also irritated with the county council and its refusal to consider citizen input over matters of importance to them when the council is acting as the zoning board of appeals. My proposal on how to correct this is not to refer all appeals to the circuit court as the council is proposing but to continue to have the council act as the appeals board but with the following modification: the council person in the district where the appeal is coming from would not have a vote on the appeals board, along with another council member, so that five council members would hear the appeal. The district council person would be free to listen to citizen input and could advocate either for or against the appeal during the appeal process. He just would not have a place on the appeal board and would not have a vote. This would keep most of the appeals within the control of the council (except those that are appealed further to the circuit court) and would keep the cost of appeal within affordability for most citizens. It would also enable citizens to continue to convey their views to their district council member. I am going to urge the council to choose this alternative when I testify before the council on a hearing on this bill on June 3.
Thornton: A commitment to quality education for all students with an improved, fiscally-responsible investment is necessary to attract and retain families who wish to establish roots in Harford County. The Council has to work with the County Executive in a collaborative way to identify sources of revenue to increase the budget of the school district. Conversely, the Board of Education and the school district has to continue to explore innovative ways to increase efficiencies. The school district has to be open to shifting their paradigm with respect to the way in which business is conducted.
Open communication and dialogue regarding the budget development process and needs should happen early and in an ongoing, intentional and transparent manner. The Board of Education, the Superintendent, the County Executive, members of the County Council, and the general public should be involved in this dialogue throughout the duration of the process.
As a county, we must find a solution to providing competitive wage packages for all county employees. When looking at compensation, the total employee cost has to be considered (wages plus benefits). I believe it is important to build a loyal and dedicated workforce by demonstrating a commitment to their success.
Another major focus area must be the economic development of the Route 40 corridor. I’m of the opinion that an “all hands on deck” approach is necessary to identify resources to spur economic growth (new businesses, jobs, etc) in this area of the county. The area is within the development envelope, the capital investment has been made, and now we must determine new strategies to harvest this potential. If we are able to spur economic growth in this area, the entire county will benefit.