Retiree pursues seat on council

Former teacher says residents want a conservative voice

Six candidates are in the race

Mish, of Parr's Ridge, served on Carroll County school board for 10 years

April 28, 2003|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Claiming that the Westminster Common Council doesn't reflect the conservative nature of the city and county, Joseph D. Mish Jr. wants to break into what he calls a "closed inner circle" and capture a seat on the panel.

"I think people would really like a more conservative voice on the council," Mish said. "Someone who supports fewer regulations and no tax increases and who opposes the additional regulations that produce more red tape."

Of the three newcomers running for office in the election May 12, the 63-year-old retired schoolteacher appears to have the greatest name recognition. He was a member of the Carroll County school board for a decade.

Also in the race for three open seats are incumbents Suzanne P. Albert, Thomas K. Ferguson and Dr. Robert P. Wack. Other candidates are Josephine Velazquez and Robert D. Miller.

Mish's platform is solidly pro-business, with an emphasis on cutting new regulations on landlords, increasing city-driven initiatives to lure visitors downtown and refusing to raise taxes. He said he has proven he knows how to work with others to build consensus through his experience on the school board.

He has been a regular at council meetings as a representative of the Parr's Ridge Condominium Association. The group often asks the council for tax credits, saying residents bear an unfair burden of paying taxes while receiving no city services other than police protection. The agreement was made between the condo's developer and the city more than a decade ago to exempt the developer from city requirements, council members say.

Mish sometimes waits up to two hours to speak at the end of council meetings. He is tired of being on that side of the table.

"I've discovered that over the years if you're working from the inside, people are more likely to listen to you than from the outside," he said.

A Westminster resident from 1966 to 1977, Mish lived in South Carroll for almost 20 years before moving back to Westminster in 1994, to Parr's Ridge.

He says he is more in sync with the county's conservative climate than the present council.

"I think the present-day council is basically more liberal than the majority of voters in Westminster," he said. "I'm not saying they're flaming West Wingers. The most liberal person on the council is gone but he's left his mark. Others on the council are definitely left of center."

Mish, a one-time member of Carroll's Democratic Central Committee, switched to the Republican Party in the early 1980s.

He disagrees with the council's position on parking issues. He said an ordinance to increase parking fees to 50 cents an hour will drive business away from downtown merchants.

"There's free parking at the mall. All things being equal, they'll pick the place that's less crowded and where they're not going to be harassed by city officials if they overstay their welcome by 10 minutes," Mish said. He also questioned the move to replace current meters with new computerized ones. "All this new equipment may be a techie's dream but it's a consumer's nightmare."

He also runs counter to the council's stand on landlords. Mish would tone down recent ordinances the city has imposed on the group, such as the registration of all residential rental properties.

"Their viewpoint has been pretty well ignored by the city," he said of the landlords. "They're businessmen and trying to make a living and rules and regulations and livability codes will drive rents up for people who can least afford it and the answer to every liberal's problem is more regulation and more taxes."

He observed the city's budget work session last week and though he praised Councilman Ferguson's resourcefulness in gathering old surplus funds, he thinks the city is going to need to develop new sources of revenue to avoid a tax increase.

Mish wants to take a more assertive approach to the city's problems and systematically go through the municipal code at each meeting - to look for areas where the city should update and revise the law.

He also wants to stir up discussion during meetings. His opinion is that this council thinks as one mind, something he suggests is unhealthy.

"People need to see that the council is really discussing the issues instead of coming to agreement ahead of time," he said.

Members of the council meet on committees - but no more than two at a time. They each receive packets of information from the city staff the Thursday before board meetings.

Mish spent 10 years on the school board, deciding not to run for re-election in 2000.

During that tumultuous period, the board was beset by scandals, including botched construction projects that cost taxpayers millions.

Critics said the school board had not exercised sufficient oversight of the projects and the administration.

Mish wasn't immune to controversy. He was instrumental in a decision to eliminate the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday from the school calendar, a move that was sharply criticized and which was quickly reversed after public outcry.

He also exerted influence in keeping sex education materials out of schools and in banning textbooks he considered "anti-Christian."

"I'm a praying man. I'm going to seek God's guidance no matter what I do," Mish said. "It's not going to make me right 100 percent of the time, but who is?"

He retired in June after decades teaching in public and private schools, most of them in Carroll County.

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