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Westminster election: Mayoral, council candidates state their case to voters

The Westminster election is set for Tuesday, May 11. The polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Those who live east of Md. 31 should vote at John Street Quarter (at the Westminster Volunteer Fire Department), 28 John Street, and those who live west of Md. 31 should vote at the Community Building (at the municipal swimming pool), 325 Royer Road.

The position of mayor and two seats on the Westminster Common Council are at stake. Mona Becker is running against Dennis Dillon for mayor. Incumbent Tony Chiavacci, Daniel Hoff and Morgan Barkley-Mathers are running for the council. Their unedited replies to questions emailed to candidates in all municipal elections are printed below.

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Mona Becker

Mona Becker
Mona Becker

Biographical information: I grew up on a small farm in southern Lancaster County, PA, very much like Carroll County. I spent a few years in various locations for school and work until settling in Westminster in 2003. I have lived in the city of Westminster for the last 18 years. While my academic background is in geology and environmental sciences, I have held educational roles in different physical science fields. I am currently a science teacher and the Science Department Chair at Westminster High School. I have previous municipal experience; I served as a member of the Common Council of the City of Westminster from 2015 – 2019.

Why do you want to serve in this role? Service and community engagement was important in my family when I was growing up. As a child, I remember taking trips with my Pop-Pop to deliver collected goods to non-profits. As a teenager, I held leadership roles in high school, 4-H, and FFA; in college I served as a student representative and President for several organizations. As an adult, I believe that when you are presented with the opportunity to give back to your community, you should take advantage of it. When we moved to Westminster, I immediately became involved with the Arts Council and various city initiatives; I made a commitment to eat, shop, and work local. I am passionate about this city – we have so much to offer to the surrounding region. I have been a continuous proponent, advocate, and cheerleader for everything Westminster and will continue to be so in my role as Mayor. The city deserves a Mayor who believes in the community and will work tirelessly to ensure the best future for its residents, businesses, and visitors.

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What is something you want to begin working to accomplish your first week on the job? When the new Mayor is elected the city will have a new City Administrator; my first task would be to sit down and get to know the new administrator. The City Administrator, Mayor, and Common Council work hand in hand to help set the vision for the city. The budget has been set for the next fiscal year and the class and compensation study has been implemented. One of the things I would like to begin working on is to start the process to search for and hire either a Main Street Manager or grant writer. A Main Street Manager would assist Main Street and downtown businesses as we move out of COVID, and help us focus our goals for the city. A grant writer would assist the city in searching for, writing, and procuring grants in areas of public safety/police, parks and recreation, and street improvements among others. There are millions of grant dollars available for municipalities such as ours, which we often miss out on without a grant writing position.

How has your municipality in particular been affected by COVID-19 and what would you like to see done to help in recovery? Every municipality in the United States has been negatively affected by COVID and Westminster is no exception. Almost every business owner I know and have talked to has taken advantage of PPP loans and other federal and state government assistance. I have watched businesses in Westminster change their model in order to survive the last year and a half. As a community, we are lucky that while our businesses have taken a hit, they are still open today to serve our community. When COVID hit, I made an increased commitment to patronize local businesses and encouraged others to do so as well. As we move forward towards recovery, we need to remember that these local businesses are the ones that support your child’s ball team, provide gift cards for your fundraising events, and host events at their facilities for local organizations. They are important parts of our daily life. The Mayor and Common Council need to promote Westminster businesses and events that bring visitors to our city; a renewed commitment to eating, shopping, living, and working local. We need to sit down with the business owners in town to listen to their concerns about the recovery. It’s certainly not going to happen overnight, but with sound financial planning and working with the business community, we can begin to recover from the last year.

What is the best thing about your municipality and what is something you’d like to see change? The best thing about the City of Westminster is its people and the community. That when you walk through the neighborhoods, on the trails at Wakefield Valley, play tennis or basketball in the park, or attend downtown events people are friendly; they have a smile on their face. Residents look out for their neighbors, building a strong community. One thing I would like to see changed is that the operations of the city become more transparent. From the water treatment, to the finance discussions, to how our police department works. I would like to see a series of Open Houses for city offices and perhaps a “Citizen’s Academy” in municipal government. We represent all the residents of the city and our operations should be transparent.

What skills do you have to offer constituents that other candidates might not? I have strong and respected working relationships with our current elected officials who will be serving on the Common Council after the election, the Westminster Police and Fire Departments, our elected County Commissioner representing Westminster, other elected officials, the administration at McDaniel College, and the business community. My background in the physical sciences provides me with skills to understand the water issues facing the city. I have strong social and interpersonal skills; I am a connector, I have worked in the community for almost 20 years connecting local leaders and individuals to each other and to opportunities. I understand how the city operates and can provide thoughtful, steady, and experienced leadership.

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Dennis Dillon

Dennis Dillon
Dennis Dillon

Biographical information: My name is Dennis Dillon and I am running for mayor of Westminster in the upcoming election on May 11th. I live in the heart of Westminster on Willis Street with my wife Jaimie, a local realtor, sons Brendan and Braedan, and Brook and Bailey, our two black Labrador retrievers. We have been residents of Carroll County for over 20 years and City of Westminster residents for 4 years.

I am a Vice President at ARC Document Solutions, a publicly-traded company with over 2,500 employees and locations nationwide with a market capitalization of over $95 million. ARC provides specialized document solutions, with an emphasis on the non-residential segment of the architecture, engineering and construction industry. I have over twenty years in business management, sales, training, and customer service experience. I have an MBA in Business Development and a BS in Political Science from Frostburg State University.

I am a long-time youth soccer and football coach, and I am proud to have helped lead the Central Maryland Christian Crusaders to a conference championship. In my spare time, I like to walk my dogs around downtown Westminster.

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Unlike my opponent, I am not a politician, past professor, academic or activist. I have never held public office at any level. I am proud to be a Republican and fiscal conservative, and as a Catholic, I put God, Country, and family first.

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Why do you want to serve in this role? I thought I would never get involved in politics and running for office never entered my mind with the demands of work, family and youth sports. However, while walking my dogs downtown, I was struck by the seeing effects that the Pandemic had on Main Street business, with vacant storefronts and an absence of the usual hustle and bustle. I also noted a distinct absence of young folks in and around downtown, especially on nights and weekends. How can that be when we have McDaniel College, with 1,600 students, located smack dab within City limits? I also became a victim of crime when my vehicle was broken into and vandalized right in front of my house.

These things compelled me to get involved and run. Since starting my campaign, I have gone out with like-minded volunteers each Saturday and talked to hundreds of voters in all parts of Westminster, north and south of Main Street and east and west of Route 31.

One of the concerns I heard again and again was about the perception of crime in and around McDaniel that keeps many students from venturing into downtown. In 2016, an 18-year old girl was raped walking Pennsylvania Avenue that leads to the McDaniel campus. In 2017, a student was sexually assaulted while walking on campus. This perception has never been fully addressed. My opponent while on the Common Council, not only failed to address these concerns, she decided to vote for zoning for low-income housing that accepts Section 8 tenant vouchers adjacent to campus near College Square Shopping Center.

In addition to hearing concerns about business, especially small business, crime and the perception of crime on or near McDaniel’s campus, folks also told me about their concerns as taxpayers on issues that the present crop of politicians in Westminster have ignored.

The first was rising water rates and water quality. At door after door, resident after resident reported shock when opening his or her water bill. In November 2020 a Maryland Department of the Environment report noted high levels of harmful man-made chemicals in the municipal water. One of the core missions of a municipality is to provide clean, potable water to residents without it costing an arm and a leg. Those in charge now, and those in charge in the past, including my opponent who served on the Common Council, kicked the can down the road on water, and apparently had other priorities. City leaders prioritized high-speed internet, with a high price tag of $15.5 million, instead of focusing on clean and affordable water for residents. All the while, residents have paid handsomely for the privilege of drinking contaminated water.

The second thing I heard from folks was about the Wakefield property. Those running the show in Westminster and former council members have had plenty of time to address uses for this asset which has become the White Elephant in the room. The present Council would like to spend more hard-earned taxpayer dollars to study the problem, and my opponent would like to let the property go “natural”, except for spending taxpayer dollars for walking, hiking and biking trails while ignoring the crumbing sidewalks I see downtown on my daily walks. If I let an asset linger on the books at my company to spoil like fish to rot on the docks, I would soon find myself out of a job. Taxpaying voters should consider this when heading to the polls on May 11th.

Everywhere I go, I hear the same song, and the chorus is that the politicians that run Westminster are not concerned about providing essential services at the lowest cost to taxpayers, but are focused on pet projects and “green” initiatives like banning plastic bags and introducing “green” purchasing ordinances. What I did not hear was anyone clamoring for taxpayer-funded high speed internet.

Our municipal government should not be a socialist social club doling out money from taxpayer wallets and pocketbooks for things other than core City services — roads and sidewalks, public safety, promoting business, and planning and zoning that increases the commercial and industrial tax base while maintaining quality of life for property owners and residents. Westminster residents do not need “forward thinking” politicians and activists representing them, they need someone who will roll up his sleeves and start taking action on the problems voters care about. I will be that person as your mayor.

What is something you want to begin working to accomplish your first week on the job? I have already started rolling up my sleeves. I have been going over the City budget with a fine-tooth comb looking for opportunities for efficiency and ways to better spend your tax dollars. I have been talking with business owners to hear what they think would help them come out of the Pandemic and thrive. I met with Chief Ledwell and discovered that officer retention was a huge problem for his department. My plan to solve this is to promote policies to provide: education incentive pay and education reimbursement; the best equipment and training available; retirement and disability pension changes to incentivize officers to make the Westminster Police Department a career destination; and tax incentives for officers who live in or own a home in the City of Westminster.

I will address the problem of the perception of crime around McDaniel, and I will explore ways to integrate McDaniel students fully into City life.

After spending half a decade studying the Wakefield property and paying consultants time and time again, a decision needs to be made on what to do with the land. For the City to sit on a piece of property of this magnitude for so long is unacceptable and unfair to taxpayers. As mayor, the only study group I want to hear from is the citizens.

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We also need to investigate water source solutions other than using “gray water” to use in our daily lives to drink and cook and bathe in. I am ready to hit the ground running on all of the issues that matter to voters in our City.

How has your municipality in particular been affected by COVID-19 and what would you like to see done to help in recovery? While the Pandemic has impacted all of us in many ways, it has hit small business in our City very hard. One personal story, witness the owner of a restaurant on Main Street that is currently shuttered due to COVID-19. The owner supports my message and was kind enough to display two of my campaign signs in the window of his business. How did those in charge reward him? The President of the Common Council instead sent him a Facebook message that informed that he was very disappointed that there were Dillon signs in the windows of the business. It is a shame the President of the Common Council, instead of throwing a small business owner a life preserver when he was drowning, admonished him and threw him a cinder block. I will fight to make City government extend a hand to business, including small businesses, as we fight together to recover from the effects of COVID-19.

What is the best thing about your municipality and what is something you’d like to see change? My family and I moved to Westminster because it has a small-town feel and the advantages of location. We can walk to shop and eat, and can also hop on Route 140 and be in Baltimore after just a short drive. Westminster should be a thriving and fun college town enjoyed by residents, McDaniel students and visitors alike, and I will promote policies to make Westminster a better and safer place to live, work and visit.

What skills do you have to offer constituents that other candidates might not? As a businessman, husband, father and youth coach, I have a unique skill set that my opponent does not. I will bring all my skills and experience to bear to improve the business climate in our City, fight crime by supporting the brave men and women who serve and protect us while fostering better relationships between the community and law enforcement, and strengthen the relationship between McDaniel and the City government and its residents.

My opponent and those in power had a chance to address these issues when she was on the Common Council, but yet these issues still remain. I am asking voters to consider giving me a chance to fix them.

Council candidates

Tony Chiavacci

Tony Chiavacci
Tony Chiavacci

Biographical information: I live on Willis Street right in the heart of downtown Westminster with my wife Kelly and 3 of our 5 children. Our other two children also own homes with their spouses here in Westminster. In addition to living here, I also own a local business, Kojak Graphic Communications, in downtown Westminster. I am a graduate of Westminster High School and of Frostburg State with a BA in Business Administration. Upon graduation from college, I was commissioned into the US Army Military Police Corps and was honorably discharged after the first Gulf War.

Since 2009, I have been serving on the city council. Currently, I am the Council President Pro Tempore, the Chairman of the City’s Public Safety Committee, vice-chair of the Technology Committee, and vice-chair of the Personnel Committee. I also sit on several local, nonprofit boards and am active in local civic groups.

Why do you want to serve in this role? During my tenure on the council, I have worked diligently to serve my fellow citizens of Westminster in a responsive, professional, thoughtful, and positive manner. I strive to provide the maximum value to our community for their hard-earned taxes. I consistently guide our excellent city staff to provide a safe, enjoyable, welcoming, and healthy community. I consider public safety the most important function of city government. During the 12 years I have been in office and chair of the public safety committee, I am proud to report that crime has dropped by 56%. This is due primarily to the excellent job our WPD does every day, as well as responsible citizens who are equally concerned with public safety.

We have made big strides in keeping the small-town charm of Westminster while continuing to expand the amenities that many towns our size are unable to offer their citizens. However, the job of improving our town is perpetual. To that end, there is an ongoing need for robust, visionary, and proactive leadership.

What is something you want to begin working to accomplish your first week on the job? I want to continue our productive and impactful work. We have accomplished much, but the work never ends. I will treat the first week as I have treated every week that I’ve been in office by doing all I can to make this community the most safe, fun, productive, inviting, and best city it can be.

How has your municipality in particular been affected by COVID-19 and what would you like to see done to help in recovery? Most of our small businesses, and particularly our restaurants and business that vie for discretionary income, have been hardest hit. First, we need to continue to ensure we have a safe community, so people are comfortable spending time in town to avail themselves of all that Westminster has to offer. Second, it is important that we get back to holding our downtown events as robustly as possible, as I have been told countless times that these events are the highest revenue producing days that many of our restaurant and retail business have. Next, we need to guarantee a timely response to businesses, and that they are given maximum effort from city staff to help them accomplish their goals and objectives. Finally, the value of our fiber network became abundantly clear as residents moved to remote working and learning in 2020. Therefore, it is imperative that we continue to nurture the growth of the fiber network to ensure its long-term viability.

What is the best thing about your municipality and what is something you’d like to see change? Without question, the best thing about our municipality is the people who live here. Westminster is the most diverse community in Carroll County allowing opportunities for both its citizens and visitors to experience things that are unique to Westminster. We have a wonderful blend of people from all economic, racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. There are dozens of dining opportunities, and the city boasts everything from quaint retail stores to large box stores and small, family-owned businesses to large manufacturing operations. All of these amenities offer an array of goods and services as well as many employment opportunities. We have a significant amount of both public and private entertainment opportunities, programs, and facilities. Westminster punches well above its weight in terms of all it offers its citizens. Much of that is due to the wonderful people who live, work, and play here.

What I would change is our problematic water and sewer capacity situation. However, we have been working hard to address these issues and must continue to do so. We have some very smart people on staff who, along with support from the Mayor and council, and some help from the county and State, have come up with creative solutions to these problems.

What skills do you have to offer constituents that other candidates might not? Frankly, I don’t know anything about one of the other councilmember candidates, so it is inappropriate for me to opine on what I offer that they do not. That said, I know Dan Hoff very well, and I think he will bring a tremendous amount of skill, knowledge, and understanding of Westminster to the table. As far as what I offer, I have a 12-year track record of serving our community in the role to which I am seeking reelection, and I believe it speaks for itself. I am diligently committed, responsive, open-minded, frugal, and frank with a sprinkle of kindness.

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Dan Hoff

Dan Hoff
Dan Hoff

Biographical information: I’m a lifelong Carroll County resident, who grew up just outside of New Windsor along Maryland Route 31. I moved to Westminster in 1999, and live downtown with my wife, Tina, and our two sons, Nicholas and Gabriel, in a turn-of-the-century Victorian in the historic Belle Grove Square neighborhood. I also work downtown in our family business, the Samuel C. Hoff Agency, a real estate and insurance agency, which has been located at the corner of Center and Main since the late-1960s. So, my roots in this community go deep.

I have a long track record of community involvement and public service. I have been a member of Carroll County’s Planning and Zoning Commission since 2013 and am currently vice chair of that commission. I have been a member of Westminster’s Board of Zoning Appeals since 2010. In 2019, I was appointed to Westminster’s Ethics Commission and recently helped bring the city into compliance with state law. I have also served on a variety of state, county, and municipal task forces over the years, working on issues related to growth, housing, permitting, rental licensing, school board budgeting, and agricultural land preservation.

Why do you want to serve in this role? I love this city and want to use the skills and relationships I have developed and nurtured over the years through my county and state level involvement (in both government and industry) to more directly impact where I live and work. I want to be part of helping to move Westminster forward and make it an even better place tomorrow than it is today!

What is something you want to begin working to accomplish your first week on the job? I plan to hit the ground running! My priorities once in office include improving downtown, increasing economic development, continuing to update our infrastructure, continuing to implement community engagement and policing, and improving the working relationship between the city and county government, as well as with our state delegation in Annapolis. As you can see, I don’t lack ambition in what I would like to accomplish while in office.

How has your municipality in particular been affected by COVID-19 and what you like to see done to help in recovery? As a small business owner myself, I truly know and understand just how devastating and incredibly stressful this pandemic has been to the majority of our small business owners that operate downtown and throughout Westminster.

We are extremely lucky that so many of our favorite locally owned restaurants, shops and other businesses have survived and are still open today, but don’t mistake that survival for everything being okay. It has been an incredibly hard 14 months – PPP loans, loan deferments and modifications, governmental grants, liquidation of savings, selling of other assets, totally reorienting your business on the fly – these are just some of the reasons why so many of our favorite Westminster businesses are still open. But they have been damaged and need our support as this pandemic winds down.

So, the city needs to do everything it can to encourage people to return to these small businesses, because they are the backbone of our community. Think of all that they have given to our community over the years through local sponsorships and charity work. We need to give back to them by our overwhelming patronage. What would Westminster be without all our favorite locally owned restaurants and shops? Personally, I can’t imagine not making my weekly Saturday morning trip to my favorite bakeries for goodies for the week. That is not a world I want to see, especially as someone who lives and works downtown.

What is the best thing about your municipality and what is something you’d like to see change? I don’t think I have just one favorite thing, but what first pops into my head is that I really enjoy all the festivals and events that we have a long tradition of holding here in Westminster – Flower & Jazz, Art in the Park, Fall Fest, Miracle on Main Street, just to name a few. There are some truly amazing things that happen here for a city of our size, and I want that to continue. These events are great showcases for Westminster, particularly our downtown.

As to what I would like to see changed, I have heard far too many stories from businesses complaining about working with city government, particularly in relation to planning, zoning, and permitting issues – Mission BBQ being a recent example. So, I believe that we need to update our zoning codes to modernize them and make them more user friendly and less cumbersome. We need to process applications and site plans efficiently and in a timely manner. We need to be reasonable partners with businesses that want to expand, relocate, or open here. There is no need for over-reaching and endless bureaucracy. We need to keep the big picture in mind – a better, more vibrant Westminster!

What skills do you have to offer constituents that other candidates might not? I don’t know that I like the idea of comparing myself to other candidates, as I know each of us bring individual experiences, expertise, and character strengthens to the table. In fact, I view that as a plus to making sure that the decisions we make as elected officials better reflect the views of the community we serve – that diversity of experience and thought is critical to getting things right.

Focusing on my own skills, I can say that I have a long track record of building relationships and working in a collaborative manner with a wide range of individuals. I also work very hard and am very detailed-oriented, which I attribute to my degree in accounting, my business-owner background, and my years of service on numerous finance committees over the years, many times as chair or treasurer.

In conclusion, it would be my honor to serve you on Westminster City Council. I humbly ask for your vote on May 11th!

Morgan Barkley-Mathers

Biographical information: I am Morgan Barkley-Mathers and I am running for Town Council. I grew up down the road in Hampstead and graduated from North Carroll High School in 2010. While attending North Carroll I participated in multiple theatre productions and played on the Varsity Lacrosse Team. Additionally, I was a Class Representative in Student Government. I then went on to attend Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia. While there I once again participated in theater while also Chairing multiple positions in my sorority, Theta Phi Alpha. I graduated with honors after only three years attending, completing two majors, Political Science and History. After going to college out of state my husband, also a Hampstead native, and I decided to come home to Carroll County. We moved into our house four years ago. I work as an Accounting Assistant in Bethesda. I have never served in a municipal role but have years of experience in leading teams to fix complex problems.

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Why do you want to serve in this role? In my opinion, the Town is too focused on large, expensive projects and forgets about the everyday priorities of residents: dead trees, busted up sidewalks, and large trucks breaking the speed limit barreling into Town.

What is something you want to begin working to accomplish your first week on the job? If elected I intend to discover where the breakdown between local government and constituents is and rectify it in as short a time as possible. Everyone should feel that they are being represented and valued by our local leadership.

How has your municipality in particular been affected by COVID-19 and what you like to see done to help in recovery? You can visibly see the impact on our local businesses as you walk around town. The plain fact is that people are no longer visiting downtown Westminster. I would like people to understand that Westminster is safe to visit again.

What is the best thing about your municipality and what is something you’d like to see change? As a Tree City, Westminster is a lovely, green place to live. However, there seems to be little plan on what to do with those trees when they begin to die. There needs to be better communication with the residents as to how those concerns are to be addressed.

What skills do you have to offer constituents that other candidates might not? As someone employed in the Accounting field, I believe in fiscal responsibility and large-scale projects that make sense. In addition to taking care of their constituents, Council Members should focus on projects that benefit the town in the long run, influencing young families to move to Westminster.

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