Debate gets heated at La Plata election forum
Republican Women, candidates push for residents to vote
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.
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.
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.