- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
This story was updated June 9. See below for explanation.
Civility was a topic of concern Sunday at an NAACP candidates forum at the Jaycees center in Waldorf for candidates for county commissioner.
A question posed by the Charles County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Wanda Woodland was how new leadership in the county would work to return to a state of civility in closed and open sessions.
“The first thing we need to make sure we do is elect the right leaders,” said Amanda Stewart, a Democratic candidate for District 3.
Stewart said residents need to elect leaders who will lead with civility, and those elected should trust their colleagues.
“You have to understand, residents no longer want to see the arguing,” Stewart said.
Robert Taylor, a Democrat and also a candidate in District 3, said residents have been embarrassed by the behavior of the current board of commissioners.
“I believe civility is absolutely the issue in Charles County,” Taylor said, adding that he knows how to get a point across without arguing. “I’ll bring civility back to the board in Charles County.”
In response to a question earlier in the afternoon about establishing a resident advisory board to investigate complaints against the Charles County Sheriff’s Office, Taylor said he would support such a board “because it would bring citizen input in.”
Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D), who is seeking re-election in District 2, said an advisory board to the sheriff’s department has been considered for years by the current county commissioners, but commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D), who is running for state delegate, has not permitted the idea to move forward.
Former county Commissioner Sam Graves, a Democrat who served from 2006 to 2010 and is running for election in District 1 against former opponent Ken Robinson, said as a former sheriff’s officer for nearly 30 years, he supports an advisory board.
Robinson (D), who won election to the board in 2010, said he supports an advisory board that is “held in the open and that people do support.”
Local NAACP President Janice Wilson said 17 candidates attended Sunday’s forum and she estimated more than 100 residents were in the audience.
Democrat Emmanuel Ogungbesan is seeking election in District 4 against four other primary candidates, including Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D), Richard Allen Aldridge and Vincent “Vinny” Ippolito, all of whom attended Sunday’s forum.
The first to answer a question by the NAACP about whether he supported a change from code home rule to charter government, Ogungbesan received applause from the audience when he said that should have been determined by residents before this year’s election season.
Ippolito wondered if a change in county government would bring more bureaucracy and paperwork.
“What I can tell you is putting a cap is not the way to do it,” Del. Peter Murphy (D-Charles), who is running for commissioners’ president, said in response to a question about a property tax cap to offset multiple tax increases in the county despite funding shortfalls.
Murphy said building a commercial tax base is the answer, but people do not want to come to a county with high taxes and overburdened schools.
Tom deSabla, the Republican candidate for commissioners’ president, allowed current Charles County commissioners’ Vice President Reuben B. Collins II (D), who is also running for commissioners’ president, to respond before him because he said he knew Collins also supports a bigger commercial tax base.
“We don’t have a business-friendly climate in the county,” deSabla said.
The audience applauded again when Davis said that to bring businesses to the county, consistency in government would help. She said she has talked to many business owners and heard that it is difficult for them to run a business in a county when they cannot be sure what to expect.
Each candidate was permitted two minutes to make a closing comment before the forum ended.
“This is not my first campaign,” Murphy said.
He said he hears a lot of “what ifs,” but he wants residents to think of “what is” and what he has done for Charles County. He voted to repeal the death penalty and voted for marriage equality. “This election is about someone who has leadership” and values everyone.
“If you elect me, I will always put Charles County first,” Murphy said.
Ogungbesan commented on his hearing people say that Charles County does not want minorities.
“I’m as minority as they come. I’m as black as black comes,” said Ogungbesan, who was born and raised in Nigeria.
Ippolito said everyone wants the same for Charles County: lower taxes, good schools and safe neighborhoods for their children.
“The only way I know you can represent people is getting out among them,” Ippolito said, adding that instead of special interest groups, he personally has funded his campaign.
Rucci said a lot of the county’s problems relate to funding and that his personal cellphone number is on his website. He is available to talk one on one with residents.
Aldridge, a U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War, is retired and said he has served on state committees. He said the current form of county government works.
“I want to tell you charter government is not the way to go,” Aldridge said.
DeSabla said he has heard that he will not get the minority vote, but he does not believe that.
“I will earn your vote because I know what it takes,” said deSabla, who said he puts principle before party.
Collins, a lifelong resident of Charles County, said he would be proud to serve as a commissioners’ president and an advocate. He said he has created businesses and nonprofits in the county and will continue to do so “because I recognize the importance of serving this community,” Collins said.
However, he said the county is at a crossroads and can no longer take what he calls “a schizophrenic approach to economic development.”
Collins said in the past two years he was steadfast representing District 3 on the county commissioners, “and I refused to vote to increase your taxes.”
“I believe I will be the best steward with your money, and it is your money,” said Steve Mattingly, a Republican candidate for District 3. He asked that residents consider him for their vote June 24.
District 3 candidate Kamilah Way, a Democrat, reminded residents of her “four E plan:” education, economic system, environment and everyone. Way said she wants to reduce the amount of trailers used in the county’s education system, diversify and have a sustainable economic system in the county, protect the environment and provide opportunities for everyone.
“I do believe I am what Charles County deserves,” Way said, referring to being a positive commissioner if elected.
Stewart said as a teacher and a mother, she knows what the county’s school system needs.
“They are receiving a good education, but, you know what, we can do better,” Stewart said. She said her vision is to protect “our quality of life.”
Taylor said he wants to lower taxes by improving and expanding the local tax base. He warned the audience that the next board of commissioners “will impact your lives until 2018,” especially small business owners like Rucci, who owns Bobby Rucci’s Famous Italian Deli & Doughboys in White Plains. The next board must be like-minded and cohesive, Taylor said, so that the county can operate well.
Davis said she takes her role as commissioner seriously, so she was disturbed by some of the “easy answers” given at the forum. She encouraged residents to get facts straight before voting, that two current commissioners are suing others, and that taxes are high, but she did not vote to increase taxes.
“I put my whole heart and soul into this, and it’s been tough,” Davis said, adding that she has been criticized for being tough but has stayed true to herself and to her faith, for which she received applause from the audience.
Johnnie DeGiorgi, a Democratic candidate for District 2, said this is his third time running for office, and he knows the issues. As a driver’s education teacher for 18 years, he said high school students are unhappy with what is going on in the county, and they tell him that after high school they are going to the College of Southern Maryland for two years, then leaving the county.
“Eight years ago I heard promise, promise, promise, and what did we get?” DeGiorgi said.
Democrat Melanie Holland, a candidate in District 2, thanked everyone for coming to the forum. She said when she retired she thought she would relax on her sofa with her pets, but she could not take the tax situation in Charles.
“I must confess that I have special interests, and my special interests are” the residents of Charles County, Holland said.
Graves said a lot of ways exist to bring businesses to the county, but consistent government is necessary.
“I’m Sam Graves, and I’m working hard to earn your vote,” he said.
Robinson said he has been a commissioner for four years and hopes to be for another four years, “however, I would rather lose an election than lose my soul.” He said he has stood up for quality-of-life issues, and Charles government was in the 20th century when the current board took office, but within weeks changes began, including a push to get government meetings televised.
“I take this job very seriously, but I don’t take myself seriously,” Robinson said.
The story was updated to correct a quote by Tom deSabla, Republican candidate for Charles County commissioners’ president.