Women’s League of Voters moderates forum

HURLOCK – Except for a few pesky fruit flies that joined the Oct. 19 League of Women Voters forum by annoying the candidates, there was no sniping among candidates or from the very respectful audience. Each participant stayed within the time limits designated by moderator Glenna Heckathorn.

The audience, numbering about 30, submitted questions that were reviewed and combined by League members to avoid duplicates. Opening and closing statements were two minutes each with answers limited to one-minute. Timekeeper Pat Comella displayed time cards as each candidate spoke showing the time left for an answer. When time was up, out came a cartoon with a zipper for a mouth.

Candidates included: Charles Cummings, running unopposed for district 1 councilman; Michael Henry, running for mayor; and Earl Murphy, seeking re-election to his at-large council post. Absent from the forum were: Joyce Spratt, current mayor running for re-election; Jerry Rhue, current district 1 councilman and running for the at-large position; Amber Truxon, running for the at-large job; and Bonnie Franz, unopposed to retain her district 2 council seat.

Accomplishments and Qualifications
Mr. Henry has served in law enforcement for 30 years. He graduated from the FBI National Academy and represented district 1 on the Hurlock council from 2009-2011 until he joined the town’s police dept. Mr. Murphy explained he works for a “fast paced company where you have to find solutions to what’s in front of you and you don’t have a lot of time.” He is a former business owner and U of MD’s “Academy for Excellence in Local Governance graduate. Mr. Cummings is a MD state trooper who has been in police work for 13 years. He handles a variety of people in a variety of circumstances and volunteers with youth sports activities.

Changes to the town charter
For Mr. Murphy there “has been a lot of looking and not a lot of doing.” The town’s foundation is the charter and it needs to be completed. He sees progress in the downtown area. The charter should be done soon, as a team, said Mr. Cummings.
Mr. Henry suggested a change from a strong to a “weak mayor system” where the council hires a town manager and the mayor takes a step back. He would like term limits where officials serve 2 terms.

Facebook and Social Media
All agreed that social media reaches the community quickly. For Mr. Cummings it should be transparent with information on the town’s website and Facebook. Mr. Henry is “all for using social media.” He used a website when he was police chief to inform and update the public. The website could also be used to promote current and attract new business.
For Mr. Murphy it is a good tool but must be controlled. He does not agree with the way “it is presented today.”

Youth activities
For Mr. Henry the possibilities are “endless” to get youngsters off the street. He suggested a recreation center, using the N. Main St. Park for sports fields, and private/public funding for a community pool. Mr. Murphy mentioned a Game Day using the local bus company to take kids to ball games. Mr. Cummings suggested reaching out to the Parks and Recreation representatives to promote county activities using Hurlock facilities.

Infrastructure
“We just did phase I,” said Mr. Murphy, by installing the water. “There is much to be done but the financial picture is greatly improved.” Mr. Cummings noted the infrastructure is a work in progress but water drainage is an issue. Mr. Henry recommended storm water management by inspecting, prioritizing, budgeting, and long range planning to correct drainage issues. Several town buildings need maintenance and repair.

Affordable housing expansion
Messrs. Cummings and Henry approved of what Habitat for Humanity is doing in Hurlock. For Mr. Henry, improvements to the area, schools, recreation facilities, nearby shopping, and community activities will attract people and suggested seeking grants for affordable housing.
Mr. Murphy recommended promoting homes for sale on the town website.

Term Limits
Two four; one against. Mr. Henry said office holders often get “stagnant and ideas sometimes stop flowing.” The town needs new faces, new ideas, and new perspectives coming into office. Mr. Cummings agreed: “Eight years is enough time for us to build new community leaders.”
For Mr. Murphy, “elections are a term. “If you vote somebody new in that’s because you don’t feel the person is doing the job. That’s a term limit.”

Insurance for officeholders
All three candidates disagreed with tax payer funded medical insurance for elected officials.

Lowering property taxes
Considering the town’s large surplus did candidates feel property taxes should be lowered?
“Absolutely,” said Mr. Murphy. We have enough surplus to fund the town for a year “but we have to take care of it,” he said. “We don’t have water meters, we go by spigot. That’s something we could do right away.”
Mr. Cummings agreed but warned, “We could give a tax cut but make sure we remain financial strong for public safety, police department, and youth facilities.” Mr. Henry would “love to pay less as long as government can function and take care of services properly, I have no problem.”

Have you read town charter?
Mr. Cummings has a copy and noted “I have breezed through it to find sections that pertain to the election.” As a former councilman, police chief, and current candidate Mr. Henry has read it, “several times,” he said. It forms the rules and regulations for governance but needs to be codified.
Mr. Murphy said, “Yes. I look through it as much as necessary. There still are things that are works in progress” and supports clarification.
Powers and responsibilities
“Everybody is elected,” said Mr. Henry. “The mayor kind of runs the show but doesn’t have a vote in the proceedings. The mayor presents the ideas but the council votes the yea or nay.” Mr. Murphy explained that even with a strong mayor system decisions are made by the council.

Combating crime
For Mr. Murphy the crime increase in his neighborhood “upsets” him. “We have to make sure we do our job and the police department does theirs. We need them to help us feel safe.” He acknowledged several changes in policing were made but suggested more are needed.
Mr. Cummings said, “We need to hire more officers and put them on the road” to walk or ride bicycles in the neighborhood. “You can’t hear much from inside a car with the windows closed.”
“You have to look at the staffing and make sure everyone is being used properly,” said Mr. Henry and there are enough officers for 24/7 coverage.

Business attraction
Mr. Cummings suggested asking current businesses for recommendations and how the town government can help. Council members could visit other small towns to gather new ideas of promotion.
“Get out and promote the town,” said Mr. Henry, and publicize on the town website that Hurlock has tax incentives. He suggested movie and concert nights in the downtown area. Mr. Murphy noted the Fall Festival was a big event that businesses and organizations profited from. He wants to hear the local businesses concerns and help them thrive.

Is fixing the town’s shallow well or offering natural gas a high priority?
While both are concerns, neither is a high priority. If there was enough citizen interest and a profit margin for the company they would support natural gas.

Closed-door meetings
Mr. Cummings said if the information discussed at these meetings can be given to the public it should be – either at a town meeting or through the website.

Mr. Henry explained there are certain times when the town is allowed to work behind closed doors based on the topic. He noted the County council posts minutes on a bulletin board with a synopsis of what transpired. Mr. Murphy said council members cannot offer specific information but can say what the meeting will be about. Once an issue is resolved the determination can be made public.

After closing statements, Ms. Heckathorn said, “Hurlock is fortunate to have a fine slate of candidates and we really appreciate the ones who came out and took the time to come and address all of you who are interested in the town’s governance.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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