Development issue dominates candidates forum

October 09, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

How fast and how much the county should be developed was the question that divided Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker and his challenger, Democrat Susan Gray, in a televised candidates forum yesterday at Howard Community College.

Ms. Gray, an activist attorney who has made a name for herself in various development and highway battles, accused the incumbent of running an administration that has encouraged rampant growth while misleading the public about its cost.

Mr. Ecker charged that if his opponent were to be elected, business would take flight, leaving county homeowners with a larger share of the county's bills to pay.

Each candidate said the other would have to raise taxes. Both promised to avoid tax increases, but stopped short of guaranteeing the present property tax and piggy-back income tax rates.

Questions submitted by the sparse audience in the Smith Theater included a couple of darts aimed at the candidates' perceived weak spots.

For Ms. Gray, derided as elitist by elected officials in both political parties, there was the question asserting that "slow growth and exclusionary zoning are equated with being anti-black."

Neither Ms. Gray nor Mr. Ecker agreed with that assertion. Mr. Ecker said Ms. Gray's stand on growth would hurt many groups, including poor people, regardless of race. Ms. Gray called the issue a "red herring" and said her policies would build on the county's existing cultural and economic diversity.

Mr. Ecker was asked if he supported a county charter change on the ballot that would allow county residents to petition comprehensive zoning and the county's 20-year land-use plan to referendum. Ms. Gray wrote the ballot question, which even its opponents believe has a good chance of being approved by voters Nov. 8.

Mr. Ecker said he was neutral on the issue and favored reforming the zoning process during next year's charter review process.

The executive forum was followed by a panel of the 10 nominees tTC for five County Council seats.

Most candidates agreed that the county should use a regional approach to manage its waste recycling and disposal and that the county's zoning process should be reformed.

A few candidates disagreed on how those two subjects would be approached, however.

Charles C. Feaga, an incumbent Republican representing west county, was the only candidate to give an unqualified endorsement to incineration as a way of disposing of trash that can't be recycled.

He said west county landfills have had to take most of the county's trash, and local ground water supplies have suffered for it.

His Democratic foe, John W. Taylor, equivocated on incineration as an option, but was one of the few candidates to embrace the zoning referendum.

"It always scares me when elected officials tell the people, stay out of it, we'll decide this on our own," Mr. Taylor said.

The forum, which concluded with an afternoon session for state legislative candidates, began with the four school board candidates.

Most candidates said they opposed year-round schooling.

One candidate, Jamie Kendrick, chided school board members for ignoring a spring survey that showed 60 percent of parents were against the idea.

Former board member Karen Campbell said she had not been "unequivocally against" the idea because she believes "it's only fair to look at the possibilities."

While Delroy Cornick said he felt "year-round" was a misnomer and the scheme was too complicated, Stephen Bounds leveled the harshest criticism of the idea.

He said he had studied year-round schooling in other school systems around the nation and found that more were abandoning the idea than taking it up.

"This is a sinking ship, and it's not time for us to jump on it," Mr. Bounds said.

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