Prince Frederick, MD – A well-attended candidates’ forum hosted by the Calvert County Chamber of Commerce provided the audience with a chance to learn how individuals vying to lead the county into the next decade stand on the current issues. Residential and commercial growth control, transportation, job growth and budget management were among the topics. There were also indications that chamber members and others in the community would like to see a better measure of civility towards the public during the next four years. The event was held Sept. 26 at the College of Southern Maryland Prince Frederick campus.

The forum participants were the 10 candidates seeking the five seats on the board of county commissioners and the two candidates for sheriff. Three incumbents—commissioners Mike Hart and Steve Weems and Sheriff Mike Evans—were among the participating candidates.

“I think we’ve done a lot of good things,” said Hart in his opening statement, possibly countering his Democratic challenger Tricia Powell’s slogan “we can do better.” Hart and Powell are running in the First Election District.

“It’s a humbling job,” said Weems, a Republican seeking a third consecutive four-year term. Weems touted his “institutional knowledge” and later added that there were initiatives that were started by the current board that he wants to see to completion.
Evans, who is seeking his fifth-consecutive term as sheriff noted the agency’s work in significantly reducing serious crime in Calvert and boasted that the local sheriff’s office led other jurisdictions in deciding to use Narcan to stop fatal drug overdoses. Evans’ opponent, Democrat Michael Hawkins, said he wanted to assign more deputies to local schools.

When asked why they were running for office, Second Election District commissioner candidate Susie Hance-Wells stated, “I felt there was a distinct change in where the county was heading” under the current board. Hance-Wells’ Republican opponent, Tim Hutchins, his top priority is expanding technology education in Calvert, which he feels would create a revenue stream that will benefit the county’s younger population.
In the commissioners’ race in the Third Election District, both candidates—Republican Kelly McConkey and Democrat Holly Budd—are business owners. During his six years on the local school board, McConkey stated he has “been very frugal with the budget.” Budd, who serves on Calvert’s Environmental Commission, told the audience “I’ve seen the threats the county is up against with over-development.”

Besides Weems, candidates vying for the two at large seats on the board are Republican Buddy Hance and Democrats Matt Bennett and Greg Brown. Hance said in his role as a farmer, Maryland Farm Bureau president and state Agriculture secretary, “I’ve got a lot of experience in handling budgets. Although he is only 20, “it’s too important to stand on the sidelines.” Bennett said the current board “has bent over backwards” to accommodate developers. “We aren’t going to look like Calvert County by the time I raise a family.”

“I will be a commissioner who connects with the people,” said Brown, a school teacher, who suggested offering tax incentives to businesses that employ county residents.

During a “lightning round” segment, candidates were asked to resister yes-or-no answers on how they stand on several topical issues.

Among the specific issues candidates weighed in on verbally, included a proposal to fund the county’s transfer of development rights (TDRs) program with money from county government’s general fund. Budd disagreed with the notion that only landowners who opted into the TDR program would benefit from such an arrangement. For other taxpayers, said Budd, “you are getting quality of life” with less traffic and less overcrowding in schools. Hance said he supported budgeted 1 percent of the fiscal year plan to the TDR program. “I think in the long run Calvert County will save money,” said Hance. On the other side of the issue, McConkey declared, taxpayers should not have to pay for the TDR program.” Hart said landowners who invested in the TDR program and are not happy with the results out to be allowed to opt out. The TDR program was designed to preserve rural land with another party purchasing the rights in order to build in a more desirable location, such as in a town center.

In closing, many candidates touted their experience as evidence they are qualified to hold office. “I’ve served in a lot of capacities,” said Hutchins, who has been a state legislator, governor’s cabinet secretary, superintendent of the Maryland State Police and a combat soldier. Hance-Wells said if she is part of the next board the panel will be “working together, listening together.”

Hart noted that the current board has set the pace for the other two Southern Maryland counties to follow Calvert’s example and establish separate animal shelters. Calvert will officially secede from the Tri-County Animal Shelter after the opening of the Linda L. Kelley Animal Shelter next month. ”What I want to do is make sure we grow smarter,” said Powell.

McConkey reminded voters that the likely decline in money from Dominion will challenge the county government to remain in the black. “There are a lot of funding issues down the road,” he said. Budd told attendees that having the correct growth control strategy was crucial to Calvert’s future. “Once it’s gone it’s gone for good,” Budd said.

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