- Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 15:36
- Published on Wednesday, 31 October 2012 15:30
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Burkett Lyburn, Mike Ham and Steve Kennedy are all running for Mayor in Colonial Beach.
Three candidates showed up to participate in the mayoral candidates’ forum co-hosted by the Colonial Beach Chamber of Commerce and the the Colonial Beach Foundation.
Councilman Mike Ham whose term will not expire until 2014 is running on the ballot. Ham was originally appointed to fill Stephen Kennedy’s vacant seat when he resigned, then Ham ran in a special election and was successfully voted in to fill out the remainder of Kennedy’s term.
Councilman and Vice Mayor Burkett Lyburn holds one of the council seats that are up for re-election. Burkett announced earlier this year that he did not intend to run for re-election to council. His decision to run as a write-in candidate for Mayor was announced the evening of the forum.
Former Councilman Stephen Kennedy resigned his seat in the second year of his second term in office for personal reasons. His term would have expired in 2014. Kennedy now running as a write-in for the position of mayor.
Each candidate had a unique approach to campaigning
Lyburn focused on a more traditional approach, appealing to as many groups within the town. Lyburn said he advocates for public education, supports revitalization and equality for seniors. Lyburn has experience in leadership and management roles and currently works in security, and utilizes his experience by chairing the public safety committee during his tenure on the council.
Lyburn’s focus on economic growth involves unifying the entire community to decide on a resolution to the town’s struggling economy and to work together to implement new goals and strategies.
Kennedy ran a much more aggressive campaign during the forum than the other two candidates. Running as a write-in and past council member who resigned his position early may have been the driving force behind his campaign strategy. Kennedy gave one unique strategy for marketing the town by encouraging technology-based business, saying the town needs to find a way to generate year round revenue rather than focusing on the age old tourism industry that has fluctuated through out past centuries but has been the main source of revenue since slots were outlawed in Maryland.
Kennedy said, “You gotta have a stronger tax base. The only way to do that is to attract businesses to this town that can operate 365 days a year. We cannot survive on six months out of the year. I don’t believe in raising taxes. I believe we need to attract technical businesses that do not depend on the tourism trade. That would add to the tax base and create jobs.”
Ham carried himself in his traditional relaxed but focused manner with an air of confidence.
Ham has a goal to lower taxes for citizens and has laid out a plan to work towards that goal. His plan includes promoting tourism and new business to grow new revenue, eliminating the need for more citizen taxes.
Ham understands that the Mayor is just one of seven votes in the Council but believes the role of the mayor consists of keeping the council focused and meetings orderly, ensuring that all full time, weekend and summer residents have an opportunity to express their concerns and to understand what is happening in Colonial Beach whether in a meeting or on the street. Ham also believes the Mayor’s role includes marketing the town, tourism and businesses.
Colonial Beach follows a council-manager form of government in which the council, appoints a town manager to perform the day-to-day operations of the town and oversee the staff. The council is made up of seven members with each having equal voting power.
Kennedy feels the role of Mayor is no different than that of other council members saying, “One vote! The mayor chairs this council, acts as a dignitary in town. No one works for the mayor. And that’s the way it should be.”
Ham and Lyburn however said they believe the mayor’s role is farther-reaching; they both agreed the role of the mayor is to keep the council focused on the issues at hand and work together. Lyburn felt the mayor should also be a go-between for the town manager and council. Lyburn feels the mayor should have more interaction with the citizens. Ham added that the mayor should market the town. Lyburn also felt that when something new comes up the mayor should be the first to be notified.
Kennedy rebutted saying “I disagree to the extent that the mayor should be the first one to be notified. We have a town manager for things like that.” He said he felt the mayor should be involved but that he interpreted the question strictly from a voting standpoint.
Colonial Beach has seen some major neglect and deterioration of its water and sewer infrastructure. The town is now under a state mandate to get the situation under control in a timely manner.
Ham is confident he can keep residential taxes from rising while still improving the town’s water and sewer infrastructure. Ham was successful in convincing the council to reduce a recent water increase from $30 a month to just $10 a month. “I’ve fought any attempt to raise taxes since I have been on the council and will continue to do so.” Ham said.
Lyburn agreed and credited Ham with that reduction and said, “We have a lot of elderly residents on fixed income, sometimes a five or ten cent raise can put them out of their budget, so we have been doing everything we can to keep taxes down. We are trying to find other resources to get this money without raising taxes for the town.”
Kennedy agreed with the other two candidates but took the opportunity to chastise the current council for raising water rates to citizens but lower connection fees for builders. “I have a problem with lowering tap fees and raising water rates. Those are the questions I want answered and will ask when I become mayor.”
Ham responded to Kennedy’s inquiry, in a later question on economics, saying, “We did that in response to the previous council doubling the tap fees.”
Ham stated that by doubling the tap fees the town basically wiped out the five to six million dollar investment made by Lenor Builders to purchase Potomac Crossing. Ham added, due to the reduction of new construction the town went from receiving $300,000 one year for tap fees to only $130,000 after doubling the tap fees and only $70,000. the following year. “We crippled the building in this town for any new type buildings,” Ham concluded.
Kennedy used Monroe Point as an example claiming no new units have been built since tap fees where reduced.
Kennedy was presented with the following: “You made the statement in The Journal on Aug. 22 that the town is top heavy in management.” He was then asked, “On what specific observation did you come to this conclusion?”
Kennedy said, “I have seen town hall grow over the last couple of years. When I first got on council there was probably three people to what it is today.” Kennedy did not elaborate on how many employees there were or the positions of management to employee ratio. “I also said that I think we need to re-evaluate from the top to the bottom, every department and make sure we have the proper people, the proper number of people in those positions; proper people with the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform those duties for the way they’re getting paid.”
Both Ham and Lyburn felt that the town was not top heavy in management but agreed that the employees should be evaluated and if needed reassigned to maximize their full potential. The two candidates stated that the evaluations should be done by their managers and managers in turn should be evaluated by council. Ham commented, “We don’t need to evaluate down to the person digging with a shovel.” Both men agreed that there has been significant population growth.
In rebuttal Kennedy said, “I never said I was going to evaluate everybody down to the guy that digs with the shovel. I said department heads and anybody that’s responsible for handling the town’s money, that’s what I said in the article.” Kennedy said, “I would want this council or an independent agency to evaluate.”
Kennedy also estimated the population growth at 80 people a year, a figure that he indicated did not warrant the amount of present staffing.
All three candidates agreed that the mayor should vote in all matters: Kennedy asked if the mayor doesn’t vote how are you going to know where he stands on different issues.
All three also agreed that the Mayor should not have direct oversight over the town employees, but over the department heads and they agreed the mayor should have an office in town hall and that it should be shared by other council members.
Kennedy was posed the following; “You stated in The Journal of Aug. 22 that you would promote economic growth. What measures would you strive to institute that have not been implemented in the past?”
“I’d go back to Potomac Crossing,” which he describes as a big development that never happened. “It’s a big 18 hole golf course, I’m still waiting for my tee-time, it’s never happened. Economics has driven all that. The economy will not allow them to build. I’d say go back, renegotiate their subdivision approval and gain some property to turn into a technology park.” Kennedy said he would finish what he started to try to get a YMCA in the town.
Kennedy feels that when a technology park is created we can go out and start selling this town. It will build tax base, bring much needed services to this town and create jobs.
Ham believes the town should focus on the Dahlgren naval base in neighboring King George. “There is tremendous building going on there. They are going to be growing, they put in a Walmart, they will probably put in another box store soon. We need to focus on that and get some idea about how many people we can draw into the town to be permanent residents, then we can approach developers about developing places like Potomac Crossing.”
Lyburn feels the town should gather the skilled laborers in town, such as builders, electricians and masons as well as other business owners and poll them in a meeting to find out from them what they want. Lyburn said “We need to ask what can we do? Get ideas and suggestions to make this town the way it should be. Economic development is going to involve everyone here in the town.” Lyburn added, “We can’t compete with Dahlgren.”
Ham and Lyburn are in favor of designating a portion of the town as a historic district but Kennedy warned that it is a long process and could have huge restrictions. Kennedy said citizens could apply for grants and citizens would benefit more from an Arts and Humanity overlay district.
A citizen recently made a formal request for the condemnation of the remnants of a little steel pier located at the foot of Colonial Avenue, belonging to the American Legion.
When asked if they support the idea of condemnation, both Ham and Lyburn felt that with the length of time the structure has been there with no accidents and given its historical value, condemnation was not a time-sensitive priority.
Kennedy on the other hand said, “I don’t believe in condemnation of the property but it doesn’t matter how long it’s been there. If it’s an eye sore get it out of there.” Kennedy brought up that it could deter prospective developers from investing in property or projects within the vicinity.
Both Kennedy and Lyburn were asked about their circumstances around running as write-ins.
Lyburn was asked why, after he publicly announced he would not run for re-election to the council, he chose to run for mayor.
Lyburn responded that friends, family and citizens encouraged him to run for mayor, because he loves this town he wants to be instrumental in turning it around. But he said that will take everyone on the council and said, “The mayor needs to unite the council to work towards a common goal.
Kennedy was asked why he resigned from council early in his second term and why should voters trust him.
Kennedy responded, “I resigned for a number of reasons that I won’t discuss. They were all personal and I want them to remain that way. I am asking you to respect my privacy. I couldn’t give 100 percent of my time and effort to running this town.” Kennedy said he was past all that and said people will just have to trust him.