Town goes to the polls Tuesday to elect three new commissioners

Special election required to restore legal quorum

Bel Air

January 19, 2003|By Ted Shelsby and Lane Harvey Brown | Ted Shelsby and Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A small army of political candidates is out knocking on doors, waving to motorists and shaking hands with shoppers for an election that will put Bel Air's town commission back in business.

Eleven candidates, including a sprinkling of lawyers, a car dealer, an architect, a former county planner and a past mayor, are vying for three of the five seats on the Board of Town Commissioners in a special election Tuesday.

They will be replacing two commission members who were elected to other offices in November's general election and another who unexpectedly resigned.

The vacancies have eliminated the quorum necessary for the board to do business since early December, said David E. Carey, one of the commission's two remaining members.

"But this is not like Congress," he said. "Maybe we can't conduct business, but this doesn't mean the streets are not being plowed and the trash is not being picked up."

"Fortunately," he said, "the interruption comes at a time when we are not faced with a lot of pressing business. We have a light agenda for our first meeting after the election."

At that meeting, the commission will vote on a proposal to lower the town's age limit to qualify for senior housing to 55 from 62, to bring it in line with county regulations.

The election will cost the town $3,000 to $4,000, Carey said. "We could have used that money for other things," he said.

Carey said that if there were only two vacancies, the board would have been able to appoint successors. But the three openings required a special election.

"We've had occasional resignations and people elected to higher office before," Carey said. "But I can't remember a time when we didn't have enough for a quorum. I doubt that it has ever happened before."

He said the three candidates with the most votes will be elected. The top vote-getter will finish the term of Robert E. Cassilly, which runs until 2005. Cassilly was elected to the Harford County Council.

Candidates with the second- and third-highest vote count will serve until a new election in November.

About 800 Bel Air residents normally vote in the town commission elections, Carey said.

The candidates, in alphabetical order, are:

Joseph H. Brooks

Brooks, a 70-year-old former town commission member, said he didn't expect to run for re-election: "It's just evolved."

He served on the commission from 1993 to 1997, which included a stint as mayor from 1995 to 1997.

"When I heard they lost three members, I thought I could help. I have the background. I have the experience."

He offers voters a printed list of the things that he supports, including a safe place to live, adequate and safe water, high standards for government ethics and morals, and services for senior citizens. But he acknowledges that he doesn't know if these are areas that need improvement.

"We need to do something about the traffic," he said of the congestion on U.S. 1 and Churchville Road. "Maybe we can have the police out directing traffic during rush hour. Maybe we can have electric signs along the roads warning when there is an accident or congestion ahead."

Brooks said rezoning will be an issue for the entire county and in Bel Air. "We have to watch out that businesses" don't move into residential areas, he said. "Nobody wants a gas station across the street from their house," he said.

"But we don't want to put restraints on business," he added. "Business is a strong part of our tax base. It will take a juggling act to keep everybody happy."

Stephen G. Burdette

Burdette, 49, is another former commission member, having served the town from 1994 to 1998.

He is an architect, which by chance played a role in his decision to seek public office. He explained that his participation in a national architecture leadership program last year "encouraged me to be more involved in civic activities. It reinvigorated me."

He said his profession should be an asset to the board, which in the past has been dominated by lawyers. "A mix of professions on the board is a good thing," he said.

Burdette said development will remain a major issue, and he feels he has a good understanding of how it affects communities.

He would like to see new life pumped into Main Street with improved lighting, upgraded and wider sidewalks and benches. "We need to make it more friendly to pedestrians," he said. "I would like to see new storefronts, with canopies, making them friendly to people."

He advocates the construction of a town arts center that can be financed jointly by public funds and fees paid by user groups.

William G. Christoforo

Christoforo is a 50-year-old lawyer who has worked in the Harford County state's attorney's office for 22 years, specializing in prosecuting white-collar crime.

"My biggest concerns are traffic congestion and the growth issue," he said.

"I work on Main Street, in the courthouse, and we need to do something to make it safer for pedestrians. We need sidewalks all the way through town. In some areas, people have to walk on the road.

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