Forum sheds light on town candidates
On Oct. 23, all four candidates for the open town council seats attended a forum co-sponsored by the Colonial Beach Chamber of Commerce and Colonial Beach Foundation.
Incumbents Curtin, Edwards, and Chiarello were each appointed to their seats following a council member’s resignation. Goforth is not on town
council, but regularly attends council meetings.
Questions involved everything facing the town from the possibility of raising taxes in the future to what should be done with town-owned property. Town citizens were given the opportunity to send questions in beforehand or to give them to the host the night of the event.
The forum opened with each candidate taking a moment to talk about their reasons for running for council.
Tim Curtin was appointed to his council seat in late 2011. His priorities for the town include: redeveloping the boardwalk and downtown business district, improving access to town government, and bolstering economic development. He is a supporter of an independent school district. Curtin is a member of the Maryland National Guard and works as a police sergeant at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall Police. He is married to Jamie Curtin and they have four school-aged children.
Tommy Edwards was appointed to the council in January of 2012. He is retired from the Alexandria Fire Department where he worked for 30 years. He is a member of the town’s tourism council and is also a former U.S. Marine. He and his wife have owned property in Colonial Beach for more than 25 years.
Jim Chiarello was appointed to his council seat in March 2012. Chiarello is “semi-retired” and works as a handyman now. He moved to Colonial Beach in 2009 with his wife of 39 years. He has three daughters and six grandchildren.
Wanda Goforth is the only non-incumbent running for a council seat. She is retired from the National Park Service where she worked for 19 years. She served as her union’s president and/or vice-president for 10 years while working for the park service. She has been the co-owner of several businesses in her life, including a gas station and a cattle farm. Goforth is originally from Alexandria. She has three children two grandchildren.
Can you name one issue, or project, that the current or past council hasn’t addressed?
Curtin: The boardwalk. We have been frittering around with that forever. Council of 20 years ago had a split decision that stopped progress.
Edwards: The boardwalk is one, but also Eleanor Park. It was worth $2.5 million in 2007, latest is down to the $1 million range. We don’t know where to go from here.
Chiarello: Boardwalk, Eleanor Park. We need to set a vision for town. We need a town center for focused activities. We need to get the town off the boardwalk and get businesses in.
Goforth: There are so many it is hard to narrow it down. I do not want the town to sell off majority of green space. Wee need to take care of infrastructure that is failing. We need to reduce costs.
Do you think we should have an independent school system?
Curtin: When appointed to council, I was worried I’d have to make a decision I didn’t want to make. We need to get more federal and state funding. If we were to consolidate with the county we would lose a lot of funding. We need an independent school system. Even if we consolidated we would still have to pay the same. The county would not make the rest of the county pay for our kids.
Edwards: Right now we’re making it work. Maybe down the road, if finances called for it, we might have to look at it, but I’d be hard-pressed to send our kids down there.
Chiarello: Colonial Beach is unique in respect to having its own school system and it should always be part of this town. It is a sense of pride in this community. We need to plan for the future of our schools.
Goforth: As long as we can afford it, I’m all for it, with failing buildings, I’m not sure how long that can exist. There comes a point were it becomes to expensive, then we’ll look toward combining with Westmoreland, although with hopes of keeping high school here.
Council committees are currently solely council members, do you support restructuring these committees to include staff and citizens?
Chiarello: The system is just ineffective. The committees could be much more focused if we had more people involved. This would help bring the community together.
Goforth: We need citizen involvement and doing this would hopefully get more citizens to council meetings.
Curtin: We need to get more citizens involved. Then committees could meet less formally and get more done.
Edwards: Presently we only have four committees and the mayor is part of each one. We need citizens there to be involved on the committees. We need you all there.
Do you believe that Mayor and Town Council should have direct oversight over town employees?
Goforth: I believe over some of them; Town manager, police chief, managers [Department].
Curtin: No. Council-managed governments require a certain amount of trust. That is the town manager’s responsibility. It just isn’t workable.
Edwards: Everyone has to answer to the town manager, or their manager, and she reports to us. There is a lot of bickering about the town manager but, she is doing her job.
Chiarello: No, council shouldn’t be directly overseeing employees. Council needs to show leadership and work with the town manager and council should be hands off.
The Revitalization Plan calls for an “anchor business” at the end of Colonial Avenue and the Boardwalk. Do you agree?
Curtin: Yes, a hotel conference center would be the natural thing to put there.
Edwards: We need a developer to come in and put in a hotel conference center. We have slots coming in the future and Dahlgren is going, we need a conference center.
Chiarello: We need a hotel conference center. We have many plans put in place, we need to entice businesses to come here.
Goforth: With all the land we have on the boardwalk a conference center would be nice, but where? Future development needs to be thought out.
Do you believe the mayor should have an office in Town Hall?
Edwards: If I was mayor, of course. If you are doing town business, you need an office, but you should not be dealing with employees.
Chiarello: Absolutely yes. We need to cast an image of respect to businesses, and for that he needs an office.
Goforth: Yes, we looked foolish in papers when he [Fred Rummage] lost his office.
Curtin: The mayor needs an office with ground rules set. It wold be nice for council as well.
How do you think Eleanor Park and other town properties can be best resolved?
Chiarello: We need to identify all the options, then present them to the town citizens. On Eleanor Park we need a referendum so we do what the town wants done with it.
Goforth: Council needs to know what citizens want. I have talked to many citizens over a two-week period and none want to see Eleanor Park sold. Citizens are often too shy to speak at meetings about issues such as this.
Curtin: Eleanor Park has become an emotional issue. Council is here to make these decisions.
Edwards: People are talking about it being a park or a dog park, but Robin’s Grove park isn’t used. The Lion’s Club property is a prime example of land we could use as a town center. Town hill is another piece of open green space that isn’t used.
What do you personally, in one sentence, think Eleanor Park should be?
Goforth: A park.
Curtin: A park for physical fitness.
Edwards: Private Homes.
Chiarello: A park with things to do.
Do you support the Paul Stefan Foundation proposal?
Curtin: Yes, I do, period. The Klotz building is on its last legs. This is a huge opportunity and serves a need.
Edwards: Yes, it has to be worked on or we lose the building.
Chiarello: Yes, as no one else wants to work with the building, we should partner with PFS.
Goforth: I support saving historic homes and saving babies, so yes.
Do you think there should be an ethics committee?
Edwards: Yes, but chaired by council.
Chiarello: Yes, but by citizens, you cannot review yourself.
Curtin: Yes as it is a good deterrent and a good safeguard.
Do you believe that there is a history of a poor relationship between the Town Management and citizenship? If elected, what would you do to help it?
Chiarello: It depends on who you talk to. With teamwork and some direction, it could be fixed. We have to be mindful of our image and do things to correct it.
Goforth: Yes, I do believe it. I think we need to direct the town manager and her actions will improve that. I think it is more on her side than ours. With direction it will correct itself.
Curtin: Yes, but it is less of a conduct problem and more of an image problem. It is the town’s job to make it easier for citizens to know what is going on. The technology is there to make it better. This will change, because it has to. There is social media, email lists, alert now, etc, to make things quicker and more accurate.
Edwards: I think the town is getting better at getting back to people now. The town manager has to answer to the council and all the citizens.
Do you believe the town can maintain its infrastructure and needed improvements without raising taxes?
Goforth: We can try, but we need to find a way to cut costs. We gave raises when no one else did. We need to run the budget in the town the way we run our personal budgets. Infrastructure is costly, so at some point we may have to do that, but let’s consider our older citizens.
Curtin: It isn’t inevitable, it’s possible. We are dealing with a lot of indecision and improperly done things that are costing the town. We had to raise water due to 30 years of things that built up and up. This town’s problems really began when we bought up the boardwalk. There were no raises given, a small Christmas bonus, but no raises. We have to do something, we lose employees to higher salaries all the time.
Edwards: We did not give raises, we gave them a little measly bonus at Christmas, that might by a gift for their spouse. We lose teachers every year. We lost one of the best teachers to King George this year. The state has mandated we have to hire a new person this year, and we have to come up with the money for it.
Chiarello: Unfortunately, yes, it is inevitable, taxes go up. We can look at other options like adding homes to our tax base.
Do you believe the town should apply for historic district designation?
Curtin: I think it is worth exploring. Sometimes, these designations come with caveats that restrict use of buildings and properties.
Edwards: Pearson said that this is “historic” Colonial Beach. We have a lot of history here, but we have to look into it.
Chiarello: Yes, I do and I have worked with many areas as I was a contractor.
Goforth: Yes, I do.
Do you support the Comprehensive and Revitalization plans?
Curtin: I support them. I support them because it is what the community wants.
Edwards: Yes, we have a great revitalization committee and we need to follow their ideas.
Chiarello: We need to follow the comprehensive plan and stay on track for the future.
Goforth: Yes, although I need to reread the comprehensive plan.