In Sykesville, a town council race that only a few weeks ago looked like a sure thing for incumbents has become a hotly contested election, with nine candidates campaigning hard for the four open seats.
The four incumbents are running on a single ticket, highlighting their claimed accomplishments and promising to see projects through.
"We are running on a record of accomplishments that entitles us to support," said Michael H. Burgoyne, who is seeking a second term on the six-member panel.
In the past few years, the town has begun an ambitious plan to revitalize its Main Street and recently annexed 138 acres of state-owned property where it plans to create an employment campus.
"We have to convince people that we can live up to the promises," said Jeannie Nichols, who was appointed to the council last year and is running in her first election.
The council race has also attracted two former council members and three newcomers to town politics who admit that until last month they had never attended a council meeting.
Fairhaven Retirement Community's plans to build a $3.5 million corporate headquarters in a residential area may have spurred civic activism. The 3-acre property at the north entrance to the town would have to be rezoned from residential to commercial for the project.
"We seem to have a lot of candidates running on a single issue," said Burgoyne.
Cynthia Campbell and Connie Higgins have both said the rezoning controversy drew them into the race, but they insist it is not the only issue. Campbell said she found it difficult to get information about the project before a public hearing April 12.
"The mayor and town council should not make decisions that impact the residents without reasonable notification," she said.
The town has a Web site and publishes a quarterly newsletter. Officials meet the legal requirements for advertising and scheduling public meetings.
"This rezoning was the hot button that decided it for me," said Higgins. "We really need to get residents interested in the town. The mayor and council need to communicate with people more than through a quarterly newsletter. We need an open door."
If residents had been better informed of Fairhaven's plans, critics say, the council might have avoided the controversy that marked its meeting last week, which was a continuation of a public hearing on the rezoning request. About 50 angry residents crowded into Town Hall, demanding the council vote immediately on the issue. The vote was deferred to May 24.
"The council had two weeks between hearings and did not ask anybody in the neighborhood about the rezoning," said Garth Adams, who resigned from the council two years ago and is now seeking a seat. "I went door to door and asked. Not a single person is in favor."
Burgoyne countered that "the door could not be more open under this council. We can't go to every home and force-feed information to people."
Councilman William R. Hall Jr., who is campaigning for a third term, called complaints about a lack of communication frustrating.
"There is a contingent here who, no matter what we do, are not happy," Hall said.
Issues are what bring people to the polls, said Michael Kasnia, who is seeking a second term.
In 1997, 85 of the 1,626 potential voters elected a mayor and two council members. But for a controversial annexation referendum in February, 627 went to the polls. An overwhelming majority favored annexing the property known as the Warfield Complex.
"People don't come out unless something fires them up," said Charlie Mullins, who left the council in 1991 after two terms and is trying for a return.
Warfield could also play a role in the election Tuesday. The General Assembly recently cut $200,000 in planning money for Warfield, leaving many residents wondering how the town will pay for the project.
Scott Hollenbeck, a resident of Sykesville for a little more than two years, said he wants to be the fiscal watchdog on the council.
"All improvement costs should come from the private sector," he said of the Warfield project. "Nothing other than tax breaks should come from the town."
Polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Town House, 7547 Main St. Information: 410-795-8959.