The Town of Bel Air is holding an election Tuesday in which town residents have an opportunity to pick among four candidates for two seats on the Board of Town Commissioners.
As with any election, the most important thing is not who people vote for, but that they actually vote. This is particularly true in Bel Air with its dismal history – in recent years especially – of low voter turnout.
Frankly, there’s no excuse for residents of a town, or any jurisdiction, with more than 7,200 eligible voters to post turnouts of less than 10 percent or worse. While we agree the town is well managed and its elected officials and staff listen and respond to citizens concerns promptly, complacency with the status quo is no reason to stay home on Election Day.
The five-member Town Board oversees the operation of the town government which is responsible for police protection, street maintenance, trash collection, parking facilities, maintaining the sewer system and regulating many activities within the town’s borders. Why residents can’t take a few minutes of the day on Tuesday to cast a ballot at Town Hall defies logic, but it’s a given fact that if more than 500 do, it will be unusual.
We’d also like to point out that the Town Board is in transition. The most senior member in terms of service, Commissioner Robert Preston, chose not to run for another term. He’s provided valuable service to the town, both as a commissioner since 2002 and a Planning Commission member before that, but every run in politics has to end some time, and better that it be voluntary.
With Preston’s departure, chairman Susan Burdette, who holds the ceremonial title of mayor, will be the longest serving member at six years. But Burdette hopes to win election to the Harford County Council next year, and if she does, she’ll have to resign her town position, which will leave the average experience of the other four members at less than three years, which makes voter participation in Tuesday’s election that much more important.
On to this year’s candidates. Commissioner Patrick Richards is the only incumbent running. The other three candidates are Amy Chmielewski, Christopher Jordan and Michael Kutcher, none of whom have sought town office.
In the case of Richards, he actually stepped forward in 2015 and ran for the Town Board at a point when it appeared there might not be enough candidates to fill two seats. To his credit, Richards has brought a great deal of financial expertise to the board and a questioning mind, and town residents will be well-served by having him on the board for another four years.
The other three candidates come from varying backgrounds and interests and while not all life-long Bel Air residents, they’ve all be around town long enough to see how it runs and how it might be improved.
But most importantly, all three have stepped forward, like Richards did in 2015, and expressed a desire and willingness to serve. Any one of the three would be a welcome addition to the Town Board. We hope Bel Air voters at least take the opportunity to learn a little about each candidate and – above all – show up at Town Hall between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Tuesday and make their preferences known by actually voting.