Commissioner Candidates Debate Schools, Economy

October 25, 2010

Candidates for three Cecil County Commissioner seats at stake in this year’s elections debated on jobs and county schools Thursday night, with two of the contests drawing the sharpest comments, and contrasts, between the contenders.

Carl Roberts, the former superintendent of schools who is running as a Democrat for the 4th District seat, disputed the assertion by his opponent, Diana Broomell, a Republican, that the county schools budget accounts for more than 61 percent of the overall county budget. “It never was 61 percent—ever,” during his tenure as superintendent, he said.

Roberts said the schools budget, now 47 percent of the county budget, declined as a proportion of the overall county budget on his watch, as the county needed to shift funds to roads and other needs. “You do not have accurate numbers,” he told his opponent, suggesting she hadn’t done her homework on the schools or other issues.

The candidates appeared at a forum sponsored by the Cecil County Patriots, the local “tea party” group that has sponsored previous forums for commissioner candidates during the primary election season. The forum, attended by a smaller audience than past events, was hosted by an independent moderator, Michael Futty, from Toastmasters International. Candidates were given broad topic areas in advance, but not the actual questions.

The question on schools asked candidates to comment on how to control costs and how to “build a technical high school.” The new tech school was dropped from the county’s capital improvement program this year for cost reasons.

Roberts said he had long supported creation of a new tech school because it is “critical” to students and the “workforce needs” of the county as it tries to attract new businesses. He said the “current model does not work,” with students shuttled from their regular high schools for part-time vocational classes. He suggested realignments of programs, even without a new building, so students could get their “total education in one site.”

Broomell initially did not address the tech school issue, but on a rebuttal to Roberts said the county should “look for funding.” She also supported adoption of an “adequate public facilities” ordinance to limit growth until public services are available and said that approach “guarantees there will be funding as we grow.”

Commissioners President Brian Lockhart (D-3rd), the only incumbent running in this year’s contests, and his opponent, Republican Michael Dunn, clashed on education, after Dunn said the commissioners were a “rubber stamp” for the schools budget.

“It’s called maintenance of effort,” Lockhart said, noting that state law requires each county to provide at least the same amount of funds to the schools as it provided in the previous year. The county held the schools budget to the maintenance of effort level this year, with no increases in funds despite the school system’s request for more money.

“If you don’t want to do that” and obey the state law, “then go to Annapolis,” Lockhart said. Dunn is employed as a legislative aide to Del. Michael Smigiel, R-36.

Dunn said he was “running primarily to bring fresh ideas and new blood” to the board and called himself “a political leader.” Lockhart cited his experience as a small business owner and four years’ service as a Commissioner that made him more knowledgeable on the issues facing the county.

On the economy and the county’s higher than statewide unemployment rate, Lockhart cited expansion of jobs and new businesses in the county despite the bad economy and the more than 300 jobs at the recently opened Hollywood slots facility in Perryville, which is also expected to expand in the future. “I’ll support them any way I can,” he said.

Dunn said the solution for job creation was to “lower taxes and cut bureaucratic regulations.” Lockhart suggested that was an oversimplication, with a curt, “no comment” on Dunn’s sole option.

Broomell and Roberts also clashed on the jobs question. Broomell leveled a broadside against “franchises” that she said were “stealing business from our local businesses.” “We shouldn’t have two Wal-Marts within a few miles of each other,” Broomell said. “There should be more restrictions” against such “franchises,” she said.

Roberts countered, “People probably like the money the save” by shopping at such discount stores which also employ local residents. Roberts also said the county must be more aggressive in appealing to the high tech companies that are relocating to the area as part of the BRAC expansion at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

He said 44 BRAC-related private businesses have relocated to Harford County but none came to Cecil County. He said a key factor is the need for job skills and “retraining programs” to provide a more skilled workforce than Cecil County now has.

The candidates for the 2nd District seat, Earl Piner, a Democrat, and Tari Moore, a Republican, had a polite exchange in which they complimented each other on running a “clean’ campaign.

Piner cited his experience as an Elkton town commissioner and recent business expansion efforts that have led to new restaurants and other facilities coming to the county seat. He also cited his seven years of experience as a member of the previous appointed school board, where he had to say ‘no’ and cut funding requests. He strongly supported a new tech school, which he said “should have been up and running by now.”

Moore cited her experience as former executive director of the county Chamber of Commerce and a legislative analyst for county governments. She said the county should expand “partnerships” between the schools and local businesses to broaden both skills and job opportunities.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Fine Maryland Wines
Proudly made in Cecil County