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Mayoral candidates explain successes, visions

(9/15) Incumbent Emmitsburg Mayor James E. Hoover, and mayoral challenger Donald N. Briggs responded to questions September 14 at the Emmitsburg News-Journal sponsored mayoral debate held at the Vigilant Hose Company firehouse, and explained their record and future objectives for Emmitsburg .

A severe thunderstorm of torrential rain and frequent lighting failed to deter several dozen attendees who braved the deluge to hear what the contenders for the position of town mayor had to say.  

The debate began only a short time after a bolt of lightning reportedly struck Elias Evangelical Lutheran Church at 100 West North Street, sending firefighters scurrying into the torrent to deal with the potential threat.

Hoover, who is employed in management with the Maryland Department of Transportation, has served as mayor for the past nine and a half years after having served as an initially appointed, then elected, councilman.

Briggs, a local realtor and owner of Briggs Associates, Inc., is a member and former president of the Emmitsburg Business and Professional Association (EBPA).  He has served on various commissions and committees in town and in Frederick County, although he has not held the position of mayor.

Hoover stated his track record as Emmitsburg mayor has included turning around the local government's habit of borrowing $60,000 to $70,000 each year to keep the government functional to establishing a $700,000 reserve fund, tackling and improving upon the long-degraded wastewater collection system, and securing grants for much-needed improvements.

Briggs noted that his background in economic development would qualify him to steer the community to a more productive, commercial future, and has been active in land preservation, much of which has helped in preserving the scenic, rural setting in which Emmitsburg is located.

Regarding economic improvements to the community, Briggs stated, "We (EBPA) have taken it upon ourselves to try and attract business here.  It should not be that way," suggesting the town administration should also play a role in approaching businesses to establish themselves in the community.  "If you call them, they will come," he said.

Hoover said the existing administration has improved upon making the town business-friendly through appropriate planning.  "We have the (diverse) zoning," he stated.  Attracting specific business categories, such as "high tech," the incumbent mayor stated, "is in the comp (comprehensive) plan…The vision is there for the different businesses."  The mayor did not agree that the town administrators should get involved in approaching businesses, saying, "We're not a marketing company."

Concerning law enforcement and crime, Briggs addressed the recent reduction of the three-man community deputy force to two, stating, "I'm very concerned about crime," and suggested the town might want to consider hiring a security company to cover for the hours when there is no community deputy on duty.  Hoover stated that the town administrators "are considering that option."  

Both agreed that more youth activities need to be established to give the teenagers in town something to do, stating "You have to have year-round activities, indoor and outdoor for both sexes."  Hoover noted that some efforts, such as Teen Night at the town pool, resulted in poor participation.  "We've tried to reach out in different ways.  It's been a challenge," he stated.

Also discussed was the potential for the town to become a member of Maryland Main Street Program, Briggs being in favor, but Hoover stating experience suggests "benefits (sometimes) do not match up to costs they (participating communities) have to put out."

Regarding general town aesthetics, Briggs said he wanted to "take back the (Town) Square," which he called "the focal point of everything that is about Emmitsburg.  It's not just a place for the traffic to go through…Do some brick work, monument it, make it walk-able.  It will take a lot of work."  Hoover said efforts to reduce parking to enhance the square has been repeatedly met with considerable resistance from residents and merchants.

In summing up the presentations, Hoover stated, "I know everyone didn't hear what they wanted to hear, that we are going to change the world, but it is what it is."  He said his focus has been to "maintain a small town image," and continue to upgrade the infrastructures.

Brigg's stated, "it's a new time…It's time to look at where we go from here.  We've got to get economic development done more quickly."  As things presently stand, he said, "We don't know where we are going."

Running for council unopposed in the town election, incumbent council President Christopher V. Staiger was present at the debate but did not participate.

The debate board, who presented questions to the candidates, included residents Susan Glass, Jeff Little and Richard Kapriva.

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