At the League of Women Voters candidates' forum last night, parent activists Courtney Watson and Barry Tevelow finally shared the platform with Arthur Neal Willoughby.
He has been missing from forums and other public appearances during most of this campaign for a seat on the Howard County Board of Education.
Willoughby, who has run three times for the board, did not make any public explanations for his absence on the campaign trail, but instead fell right in with Tevelow and Watson, answering audience members' written questions succinctly and with confidence.
Willoughby, a 21-year resident of Howard County, said that if he were elected to the seat being vacated by board chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt, he would attempt to accomplish a number of goals.
Some of those included holding county officials more accountable to taxpayers, asking tough questions, providing a link between communities to foster shared ideas, and demanding that schools and teachers have the essential services and supplies they need.
Printed literature he handed out last night declared Willoughby a "hard worker, who wants to share his energy and dedication so that everyone in Columbia and throughout Howard County can be proud of our educational system."
Willoughby, a Columbia engineer and father of one, said he is running for Schuchardt's seat because of a real desire to give back to the community.
"I'm just here for the children, to be quite honest," he said. "I'm not here for the grown-ups."
Throughout the night, the three candidates often agreed with one another about such topics as the need for better budgeting, holding leaders more accountable and making school board members more visible.
All three candidates also believe the county should provide more vocational training for students who are not college bound. In other areas, there was polite disagreement.
One audience member asked about how the county could better improve results for low-performing students.
Tevelow suggested the county take a look at models across the country where other school systems have been successful.
Watson said the county should reduce class sizes, hire seasoned teachers in schools that have high percentages of low-income students, and apply the district-wide curriculum more consistently.
Willoughby said he believed low-achieving students need to "get back to basics," noting that more phonics teaching in the early years might be beneficial.
He added that school board members should be elected by district, and not at-large, as they are currently.
He also favors year-round schooling for those students who are falling behind.
Watson, 39, said last night that there is a difference between being a community activist, and being one who "gets things done."
She has become a presence in many school matters over the past several years. She helped launch the push for a new northeast elementary school, stronger development-control laws and a 12th high school in the county.
With 18 years of business experience, the commercial insurance agent has said she can bring more efficiency to the board. Watson lives in Ellicott City with her husband and three school-aged children.
Tevelow, 43, of Dayton, has said that accountability, leadership and fiscal responsibility are the issues most pressing the school system.
He, too, has been very visible in school district matters, in an effort to make Howard County one of the "elite" school systems in the nation.
A county resident for 18 years, Tevelow runs a small computer business and does technology-based consulting.
Tevelow is married and has two children. He has been a PTA member for the past 10 years.
Voters in the nonpartisan school board primary next week will narrow the three candidates to two. The two top candidates will square off in November for thesingle available board seat.