By and large, Bel Air is a pleasant town for residents, businesses, employers, employees and visitors alike.
On many past occasions in this space, we’ve been high complimentary about how the town is run, efficiently and cost effectively. Town staff and elected officials are quick to respond to assist the public and to answer concerns and complaints.
Town government is conducted transparently, and visitors are welcome to meetings of the Board of Town Commissioners and other town boards, and Town Hall always has had an open door policy for folks to come in and share their views about how the town might be made better.
Though most town events are well attended, one that happens every November of every odd year is not: the elections to fill seats on the Board of Commissioners. Call it complacency or maybe satisfaction, but with some 7,200-plus residents eligible to vote in those elections, a turnout of 500 to 600 would be considered about the norm, and anything more extraordinary.
For those who care to do the math at home, 600 ballots cast from 7,200 eligible works out to 8.3 percent, which simply is not acceptable. It’s not just turnout, either. In 2013, when commissioners Robert Preston and Patrick Richards were elected, they were the only candidates for the two seats, and Richards became a candidate very late in the filing period, or there may not have been enough candidates at all.
Two years ago there were five candidates for three seats, which was certainly an improvement, and this year – with the passage of the filing deadline Friday evening – there are four candidates for two seats: Richards and first-time candidates Michael D. Kutcher, Amy G. Chmielewski and Christopher Jordan. That’s also a welcome sign, as four of the five 2015 candidates also were running for the first time.
So, while there no longer seems to be a dearth of people to run for the town’s governing body, if history is any guide the dearth of voters is likely to continue, which again is unfortunate and unacceptable.
The candidates have done their parts by stepping forward and showing their willingness to serve. Shouldn’t the town’s residents be willing to give 20, 30, 45 minutes of their time to show up and vote at Town Hall on Nov. 7? While obvious, the answer also seems to escape more than 90 percent of Bel Air’s residents, election, after election, after election.
Let 2017 be the year people actually do stand up and be counted in Bel Air.