Around 20 people heard from both County Council District 1 candidates, along with other local candidates, in a forum Thursday night at St. Paul’s Parish Hall in Burkittsville.
The forum was informal, as audience members had a chance to ask questions throughout and there was no time limit on the candidates as they answered each question. District 1 candidates Jerry Donald (D) and Kevin Grubb (R) were in attendance, along with two of the three county executive candidates, incumbent Jan Gardner (D) and Earl Robbins (unaffiliated).
At-large County Council candidates Bud Otis (unaffiliated), Susan Reeder Jessee (D) and Kai Hagen (D) also attended.
The first question concerned the Rural Legacy program in the county, and what candidates would do to continue to preserve farmland. Everyone was in support of keeping the current trend going.
Donald said agricultural preservation helps lead to responsible development.
“It stops sprawl,” he said. “It doesn’t stop growth overall, but it stops sprawl.”
Grubb, the last to answer the question, replied: “I agree with what everyone else said, so I’m not gonna repeat it all,” which got a laugh from the crowd.
Gardner noted the county already has a plan to preserve 100,000 acres of such land, and would continue to advocate for more preservation. Robbins agreed, but wanted to ensure no one’s personal property rights were violated.
Otis, who said he grew up on a farm, said that more needs to be done to help farmers take advantage of the preservation programs, but he supports the progress being made. Reeder Jessee said that the municipalities should be heard when considering the program.
Hagen agreed with Otis, adding more needs to be done in the long haul to preserve farmland — because it would lead to responsible growth.
One of the last questions concerned the opioid crisis in the county: Should the County Council urge the Board of Education to reinstate the DARE program, in order to educate young people about the crisis?
Donald, a schoolteacher, and Grubb, a former Frederick police officer, agreed the problem is not easy to solve.
Donald said school resource officers have somewhat filled the void on the education part, but that there is no “perfect answer” to the issue.
Grubb said the crisis needs to be made more public, in order to make sure it is constantly on people’s minds. He added drug take-back programs are a great start to reduce the amount of dangerous drugs countywide, noting that National Drug Take Back Day is this Saturday.
County Council members are elected to four-year terms, cannot serve more than three consecutive terms and make $22,500 annually with no benefits.
The county executive oversees and helps direct all county departments and agencies, and is elected to a four-year term. The executive earns $95,000 per year with benefits, and cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.
Early voting runs through Nov. 2, and Election Day is Nov. 6.