De­bate gets heated at La Plata elec­tion fo­rum

Repub­li­can Women, can­di­dates push for res­i­dents to vote

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

The Town of La Plata’s Gen­eral Elec­tion is right around the cor­ner and many res­i­dents are con­tem­plat­ing which can­di­dates de­serve their vote on May 2.

On April 19, there was a La Plata Town Hall Elec­tion Fo­rum hosted by the Repub­li­can Women of Charles County where res­i­dents saw a heated de­bate be­tween the may­oral and town coun­cil can­di­dates. The fo­rum was held at the Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press La Plata, and ad­dressed an ar­ray of top­ics such as the the town’s sign code, town coun­cil ac­com­plish­ments, trans­porta­tion is­sues, taxes, can­di­dates’ vi­sion for La Plata and hospi­tal park­ing.

“My great­est con­cern is that the peo­ple in La Plata do not come out and vote, but we wanted peo­ple to get to know their can­di­dates,” said Mil­lie Havrilla, mem­ber of RWCC.

“Ap­prox­i­mately 400 peo­ple ac­tu­ally vote in the town elec­tion

so let’s beef that up this year,” said mod­er­a­tor and RWCC mem­ber Ber­nadette Smith.

In the cur­rent elec­tion, the La Plata Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion is back­ing five can­di­dates un­der its “A New Day For La Plata” slate — may­oral can­di­date Jean­nine E. James, as well as can­di­dates Matt Simp­son (Ward 1), (Wil­liam) Brent Fi­na­gin (Ward 2), Emily Mudd-Hen­dricks (Ward 3), and Paddy Mudd (Ward 4).

The in­cum­bents in­clude may­oral can­di­date Coun­cil­man Lynn D. Gil­roy, Ralph Wayne Win­kler (Ward 1), Clyde Keith Back (Ward 2), and Joseph Nor­ris (Ward 4), along with Ti­mothy Giles (Ward 3) join­ing their slate.

Ev­ery can­di­date was ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about is­sues fac­ing the res­i­dents and busi­nesses in the town.

James said the sta­tus quo is not work­ing in La Plata and can­not go on any longer. She also said that the sign code in the town is too re­stric­tive.

“When some­body puts out bal­loons and gets sued for not pay­ing a fine then we’ve got a prob­lem. When you are go­ing af­ter some­one for wear­ing a shirt with their busi­ness logo on it and wav­ing to cus­tomers, we’ve got a prob­lem,” James said.

Gil­roy called James’ com­ment about the sign code “al­ter­na­tive facts” and “fake news.”

“In the re­cent re­vi­sions of the sign or­di­nance we took bal­loons out of the sign or­di­nance and put it into our trans­porta­tion el­e­ment be­cause it could be dis­tract­ing if there is an over­abun­dance of bal­loons in cer­tain ar­eas,” Gil­roy said.

Bill Dot­son, chair­man of the Charles County Repub­li­can Cen­tral Com­mit­tee said his wife, Julie Dot­son, owns Cen­ter­piece Bou­tique & De­sign in La Plata and she was fined for hav­ing five bal­loons in front of her busi­ness. “When she didn’t pay the fine she was sued ... If Gil­roy was to be mayor, why should we trust that he would be pro-busi­ness?”

Win­kler said the cur­rent coun­cil does try to help the busi­nesses but most of all they lis­ten to their res­i­dents.

“We have been busi­ness friendly,” Win­kler said. “The town has had three dif­fer­ent busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions, I was a part of the first two busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions, but now all of a sud­den I was told that I could not be a part of this one and I own busi­nesses in the town.” Back agreed. “One of the things that I would ask is that the LPBA al­low [coun­cil mem­bers] to come to their LPBA meet­ings. We were banned. No one on this coun­cil is al­lowed to go to an LPBA meet­ing or join the LPBA. Two coun­cil­men tried to join and we got a let­ter from the LPBA lawyer say­ing ‘no.’ Change the rules for all of us so that we can all work to­gether,” Back said.

Fi­na­gin said at the time that the coun­cil­men ap­plied for LPBA mem­ber­ship, the town had pend­ing lit­i­ga­tion against busi­ness own­ers that were mem­bers of the LPBA, “who had al­legedly vi­o­lated ord­nances.” Keith Grasso, mem­ber of the La Plata Busi­ness As­so­ci­a­tion, con­firmed this.

“It was the busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tion’s de­ci­sion to not al­low those coun­cil mem­bers at a meet­ing where busi­ness own­ers can talk freely about is­sues they are hav­ing in the town,” Fi­na­gin said.

Smith changed the topic and asked if taxes would be raised in La Plata.

Nor­ris said the coun­cil has not raised the tax rate in La Plata since 2001 but he said the town does need to broaden its tax base.

Simp­son said, “If you want to broaden the tax base, you don’t make it so that only those who can pay can play. We need to fill in the down­town area and that will help broaden the tax base. The more, lo­cal small busi­ness we have, the bet­ter we will do. But don’t bring busi­nesses here and treat them bad [in ref­er­ence to sign code re­stric­tions].”

Paul Bales, the owner of Casey Jones Res­tau­rant, said his big­gest con­cern is the ef­fects of sprawl in the county and whether the town will be­come proac­tive in com­bat­ing the is­sue.

Giles said that he likes the busi­nesses that are cur­rently in La Plata and he does not want to en­cour­age un­con­trolled growth in the town.

How­ever, Back said there is “a ma­jor player” in the town — Univer­sity of Mary­land Charles Re­gional Med­i­cal Cen­ter — that has made sprawl­ing a big is­sue in the town al­ready.

“The hospi­tal cre­ated gi­ant park­ing lots and the coun­cil tried to work with them to go into a part­ner­ship to build a park­ing garage that will al­low peo­ple to park and walk through the busi­nesses. We were turned down. The hospi­tal tore down his­toric houses to build flat park­ing lots. That’s not preser­va­tion, that’s de­struc­tion,” Back said.

La Plata res­i­dent Jimmy Cox agreed.

“My neigh­bor­hood is like a war zone now,” Cox said. “The hospi­tal tore the houses down across the street and cam­paigned all of last year to get zon­ing laws changed to turn it into a park­ing lot. The cur­rent plan is to turn the res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties on Wi­comico Street into a park­ing lot but the new coun­cil will be the ones to de­cide what hap­pens.”

How­ever, Bales said the hospi­tal is in­deed an as­set to the com­mu­nity and all of the can­di­dates agreed.

Win­kler said the coun­cil and the hospi­tal are still mak­ing strides to de­ter­mine a res­o­lu­tion for the hospi­tal park­ing is­sue.

“All of the land be­hind the hospi­tal is zoned prop­erly for a park­ing lot. You can’t have park­ing in a res­i­den­tial zoned area. I think they need 103 park­ing spa­ces and they will get those be­hind the hospi­tal. We have no idea what they will do with the houses they al­ready tore down,” Win­kler said.

Res­i­dents were given an op­por­tu­nity to give feed­back to­ward the end of the of the fo­rum.

Judy Nor­ris, said the “A New Day For La Plata” plat­form has mostly been geared to­ward the La Plata busi­nesses.

“They’ve spo­ken very lit­tle about the cit­i­zens or the res­i­dents of the town of La Plata which are the essence of the town pe­riod,” Nor­ris said.

“I’ve been to a lot of coun­cil meet­ings and town events but I have never seen the five faces [on the ‘A New Day For La Plata’ slate] at any of them,” said res­i­dent Nor­man Shel­ter. “They are all spon­sored pub­licly by the LPBA and it’s hard for any of them to con­vince me that they will not put their voice where the money comes from, rather to the cit­i­zens in La Plata who have lived here longer than them.”

Mudd-Hen­dricks said she is backed by the busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tion but she is a res­i­dent of the town first and a pa­tron of the busi­nesses — which are part of the back­bone of the com­mu­nity. She said she hopes the new coun­cil will form a re­la­tion­ship with the county and the state to ac­tu­ally get some­thing done in the town for both the busi­nesses and res­i­dents.

Mudd charged ev­ery­one with the task to go out and vote. “There are just over 6,500 vot­ers in the town and I want to see more than 600 votes dur­ing this elec­tion,” Mudd said.

Vot­ing for the Town of La Plata Gen­eral Elec­tion will take place at the La Plata Town Hall from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on May 2.

STAFF PHOTO BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

Casey Wolters, a Texas na­tive hop­ing to make La Plata his new home­town, at­tended the Town Hall Elec­tion Fo­rum at the Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press La Plata on Wed­nes­day.

The Town of La Plata’s Ward 4 can­di­dates Paddy Mudd, rep­re­sent­ing the “A New Day For La Plata” slate, and incumbent Coun­cil­man Joseph Nor­ris dur­ing the Town Hall Elec­tion Fo­rum at the Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press La Plata.

Paul Bales, owner of Casey Jones Res­tau­rant in La Plata, spoke about the ef­fects of sprawl com­ing to La Plata dur­ing the Town Hall Elec­tion Fo­rum.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY TIF­FANY WAT­SON

The Town of La Plata’s may­oral can­di­dates, incumbent La Plata Coun­cil­man Lynn D. Gil­roy and op­po­nent Jean­nine E. James, who is be­ing backed by the “A New Day For La Plata,” slate lis­ten to ques­tions dur­ing the Town Hall Elec­tion Fo­rum at the Hol­i­day Inn Ex­press La Plata.

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