Candidates tackle race, drug abuse Forum opens up political discussion of social issues

Church-sponsored event

Commissioner hopefuls offer varying solutions

October 20, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

Shifting away from the economic concerns that have defined their campaigns, five candidates for the Carroll County Board of Commissioners addressed the issues of homelessness, drug abuse, affordable housing and race relations last night.

The questions on social issues at a candidate forum at Westminster United Methodist Church seemed to catch the candidates off guard and forced them to give the audience fewer of the rehearsed answers heard in earlier forums.

A question on the state of race relations sparked a variety of answers.

"I must be naive, but I didn't think we had a big problem with race relations in Carroll County," said Republican Robin Bartlett Frazier of Manchester.

She said she had not heard of any "cross burnings" in many years. "I think we do pretty well in Carroll County," she said.

Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones, a Democrat, said he has been aware of problems with racism in Carroll. Most recently, he said, there was a racial incident at a Francis Scott Key High School homecoming dance. He did not elaborate.

Republican Julia Walsh Gouge said some residents might not be aware of racial problems in their neighborhoods but that they do exist. She asked that race relations not be turned into a "political hot ball."

More than 50 people attended the forum sponsored by the Westminster Ministerium, an association of 21 Christian churches in the Westminster area. It was the group's first political forum.

David Highfield, pastor of Westminster United Methodist Church, said the questions were intended to elicit views on helping the poor, the homeless and others in need.

"We wanted to be sure that issues surrounding the human condition, especially people who are marginalized, would be spoken about and lifted up," he said.

A question about drug abuse generated many suggestions for solutions.

Democrat Roger Larry Mann asked that schools and churches step up education efforts. Jones blamed laws that he said are not tough enough to rehabilitate drug users or keep drug dealers off the streets.

"We cannot be in denial any longer. It's been a real problem," Gouge said, suggesting that the county get involved in fighting drugs. "We have to be willing to spend money to save our children."

Incumbent Donald I. Dell, a Republican, said the current commissioners have been fighting drugs by helping to establish a drug task force. But he said laws prohibit some enforcement measures.

Police are not permitted to enter students' lockers in schools, for example, without the student's permission, he said.

"You have to tiptoe around some of these issues," he said.

The five candidates also fielded questions on expanding public transportation, improving the relationship between the county and town governments and providing adequate day care for working parents.

All of the candidates said they oppose expanding mass transportation from Baltimore to Carroll. They agreed that the transportation within the county should be improved if there is demand for it.

Dell said the county is working on a program to offer old county vehicles at reduced prices to people on welfare who need transportation.

Democrat Maxine Carole Wooleyhand and Independent Carolyn Fairbank did not attend last night's forum.

Pub Date: 10/20/98

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