Colonial Beach’s mayoral candidate forum started with a surprise on Oct. 24 and ended with an even larger one.
At the start of the forum Burkett Lyburn came in announcing his candidacy as a write-in candidate for mayor. Lyburn had formerly stated he was not running this year, but at the urging of his family, church family, and members of the community, he threw his hat in the ring.
Lyburn is vice-mayor of Colonial Beach and has been the chair of the safety committee for the town. He has been a resident of the town since 1966.
The largest surprise came at the end of the forum, when each candidate had three minutes, in closing, to say why they thought they were the best candidate for mayor. Steve Kennedy proceeded to use his time to accuse Mike Ham, who chairs the budget committee, of allowing the Colonial Beach Police officers to take their cars home.
Ham responded that he did not know he was supposed to be micromanaging the police department before proceeding with his closing remarks. Ham stated that Colonial Beach is the “best-kept secret in Virginia” and he hopes to market the town in order to bring tourists’ dollars to Colonial Beach.
Kennedy is running as a write-in candidate. Ham is the only candidate whose name appears on the ballot for mayor as he received all needed signatures in time for the June deadline. Ham took over the seat that Kennedy resigned from in March of 2011. Ham was appointed to the seat at that time and elected to serve out the term in November, 2011.
At the time of his resignation, Kennedy stated that it was for personal reasons. After being asked at the forum on his reasons, he has refused to state anything other than he wishes to have his privacy respected. Any further questions about his resignation have gone unanswered.
What follows are the candidates’ responses to questions posed at last week’s forum.
Should the Mayor have an office in the Town Hall?
Ham: Yes and should be shared with council members as needed.
Lyburn: Yes and should be shared with council members.
Kennedy: Yes and should be shared with council members.
How does the role of Mayor differ?
Ham: The mayor is the public face of the town. The mayor only has one vote, but is supposed to keep town council working together toward one goal. Mayor’s role is also to help market town.
Lyburn: Mayor’s job is to focus on council. First to be notified of anything going on, should be able to deal fairly with everyone.
Kennedy: It doesn’t. Mayor is only one vote.
Do you support the comprehensive and revitalization plans?
Ham: Absolutely. We have to look at the long range vision of the town, not just one year at a time.
Lyburn: I agree with the plans and if anyone hasn’t read them, they should.
Kennedy: The comprehensive plan is a road map for the future. the revitalization plan is probably best thing the town has done.
What are your views on the current structure of town council committees? Do you support restructuring the committees to include citizens?
Ham: Citizens should be involved, with each committee headed by a council member.
Lyburn: We need to figure out how to involve citizens and get them working with the council. We need more citizen participation in town government.
Kennedy: Citizens on committees goes hand in hand with transparency of government.
Is a tax increase inevitable?
Ham: No. We are doing a study over everything that needs to be fixed, that has been ignored in the past.
Lyburn: We are working hard to not raise taxes. We know we have senior citizens on fixed incomes.
Kennedy: We have to have a stronger tax base. We need to attract businesses.
Do you feel the mayor or town council should have direct oversight of town employees?
Ham: No. We should work with town management but not day-to-day operations.
Lyburn: Town manager has a job to do, that is her job.
Kennedy: There are only five people who work at the pleasure of the town council. Council has no business telling them how to do their jobs.
To Kennedy: On Aug. 22 you made a statement that the town is top heavy in management. What did you mean?
Kennedy: We need to reevaluate from top to bottom, in that every person who has a job belongs there.
Ham: The town has 3,540 full time citizens, 2,238 registered voters, that does not include the weekenders who own homes in town as they are not counted in the census. The town is growing, we need to evaluate workers through their supervisors.
Lyburn: I don’t think so. We need to make sure everyone is in the right position, we have had growth.
Kennedy (rebutting:) How many people do we need to add to staffing?
Do you support the appointment of an ethics committee?
Ham: Absolutely, we cannot review ourselves.
Lyburn: Yes, but we need to follow state guidelines.
Kennedy: Yes, we could have dealt better with the mayor and mayor’s office issue.
The mayor has voted on every issue. Should he?
Ham: Yes, the mayor should always vote.
Lyburn: Yes, it’s part of the process and the mayor should participate.
Kennedy: Yes. If I don’t vote how do you know what I stand on?
Councilman Tim Curtin asks: Slots are inevitable. What do you think on this issue?
Ham: We cannot say it is inevitable right now, but we need to have a plan for when/if it happens. Colonial Beach can make or break the slots, depending on the infrastructure. We need to talk to Charles County on revenue sharing due to that.
Lyburn: We need a plan. We need to sit Charles County down and tell them we need them to share revenues so we can keep infrastructure in place for roads, etc.
Kennedy: I don’t think they are inevitable. They are on hold for two years. We do need to set up a contingency plan.
Should the town sell or lease Boardwalk properties?
Ham: This is a contentious issue. We need to find out what the property is worth, what we have there, and if any businesses are interested in coming in there.
Lyburn: We need to lease property instead of selling it. We may need property in the future.
Kennedy: In 2000, I brought this up that if we didn’t make a decision, it would be made for us. This is not the time to sell property. We need to look into public/private partnership.
As Mayor how would you handle disagreement?
Ham: There are going to be disagreements, but they shouldn’t be blown out of proportion. Disagreement is part of having seven people up here.
Lyburn: All members are supposed to handle themselves professionally. If need be, I would call a recess for a few minutes.
Kennedy: There should never be a public display, take it behind closed doors. We have seen it in the past, mayor sets the tone.
How would you promote economic growth?
Kennedy: I’d go back to Potomac Crossing and revisit that. Renegotiate their contract, take land and build a technology park. Hire a full- or part-time economic developer.
Ham: We need to find investors willing to work here. We changed tap fees to try and help bring more building in, we crippled growth in town when the former council doubled tap fees.
Lyburn: We need to talk to our builders/construction and see what they want or need, and how to help them build here. This is your town, we need to know what you want.
Is Colonial Beach business friendly?
Ham: In past we have had that reputation. We are working to be much more so, and to make it known we are.
Kennedy No, we aren’t. We aren’t Fredericksburg or D.C., maybe we need to bend the rules to be more flexible sometimes.
Lyburn: We are working to be more business friendly. We need to get businesses in here and work with them.
What do you think should be done with Eleanor Holmes park?
Ham: I’m a numbers guy. We need to figure out what would be best for the town, and this property, numbers wise. We need to look at all options.
Lyburn: We need citizen involvement. One possibility is a walking memorial park with a memorial to town citizens, or war heroes, maybe with a water spray area at one end.
Kennedy: Our citizens have all sorts of good ideas, we need to let them decide. We need to turn Robin Grove Park into a dog park. We need to put it to best use, not sell it at this point.
Regarding the steel pier, do you believe in the condemnation of property?
Ham: That area has been here for years, I have never heard of anyone getting hurt on it. The town owns a lot of surrounding property and we need to make it look better. We need to work with town, just because one thinks it looks bad, doesn’t mean we need to tear it down.
Lyburn: That has been there since I was a child, I used to play on the thing. We need to look into what to do with it.
Kennedy: Just because it has been there for 50 years doesn’t make it right. We need to work with the American Legion to clean it up. How can you expect to get people to come back if the town looks like crap.