A company vice president who said he’d run Westminster like a business and a former council member who said she’s a team player both answered questions from the public during a mayoral candidate forum Wednesday night.
The two candidates, Mona Becker and Dennis Daniel Dillon, answered questions submitted by the public and asked by Carroll County Times editor Bob Blubaugh at a virtual event hosted by the Community Media Center.
Westminster’s election is May 11.
Dillon, a business man, said he’s not a politician and although he has lived in Westminster for only four years, he’s noticed areas in need of improvement. Becker, a Westminster High School science teacher, has lived in the city for nearly 20 years and spent four years as a Westminster council member. Throughout the forum she spoke about her connection with the city and the relationships she has with members of the community.
In her opening statement, Becker noted how active she’s been in Westminster since moving there in 2003 and how she listened to other’s viewpoints prior to becoming a politician.
“I work tirelessly as a connector in our community,” she said.
During Dillon’s opening statement, he spoke about the crime in the city, the lack of students from McDaniel College who frequent downtown and the existing ideas for Westminster that have not been acted upon.
“I don’t think this is a political position,” Dillon said.
He said running a city should be like running a business, which he does as vice president of ARC Document Solutions, a company that provides specialized document solutions.
Becker said she grew up with parents and grandparents who were active in their community — an influence that has stayed with her as an adult. She said she didn’t always see herself as a politician but became inspired after speaking with a friend at the gym about how people with common sense should be involved in politics in Carroll.
Although both candidates have full-time jobs, each said it would not prevent them from being mayor. Becker noted Westminster High School is close to downtown. The school’s administration knows she is running and is supportive, she said. Becker also noted she had a full-time job when she was a council member. Dillon said his colleagues were also supportive and his job allows him to work remotely.
Candidates were asked how they would bring more services to Westminster’s fiber network. which is supposed to offer various services but Ting is the only internet provider.
Dillon said he had people in his corporation look at the network and noted how big it is. “Four times the size of Westminster,” he added.
He said he thinks there are ways to work with different businesses in the city to take advantage. And he doesn’t think citizens should have to pay for it. The city should find ways for people to donate, he said. He also noted that Ting is a deficit on the budget. According to a fiscal 2022 budget report, Ting’s revenue is insufficient to cover its debt service. Dillon said as mayor he’d figure out a way to pay for that network well in advance.
Becker said the plan was never to have Ting as its only provider and her conversations with the council ensured more would be added. However, she said Ting is the best provider she’s worked with. She added the city will be in a good financial place with Ting in a few years and its debt “will be paid off.”
Both candidates said they would work with Westminster’s diverse community.
Becker said she’s spoken to minority shop owners and noted how they contribute to the city. She said she would make sure minority residents have a place to be heard. Dillon said he’s donated money to several diverse organizations and suggested the city organize festivals to support diversity.
And both candidates shared how they were equipped to handle the city’s budget.
Dillon said he’s underwent three acquisitions in his business, and the company remained profitable during the pandemic. He said federal money coming into the city should be allocated to everyone and as mayor he thinks he can bring in people he knows in the Washington, D.C., region to bring their business to Westminster.
Becker said she’s managed budgets for various departments and nonprofits. And can plan for a budget that doesn’t burden the taxpayer. She said downtown Westminster has been resilient during the pandemic.
As mayor, she said she would address zoning and friction between business owners and the city. She suggested creating a downtown city manager position using the $15 million stimulus funds the city is expected to receive.
Dillon disagreed that businesses have been flourishing but agreed to addressing zoning. He also said figuring out a way to draw people to Westminster would help businesses.
Dillon was critical of the money being spent on Wakefield Valley Park, which the city is working to improve, for the past few years though improvements that have not yet been made.
“If I did that in my corporation, and I waited around like that, I wouldn’t have a job,” he said.
Becker said she favors a low-impact approach to the park’s renovations and that it’s been a great part of the city. She added later that trails in the city need to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act when asked about trail upgrades. However, Dillon said upgrades in the city’s infrastructure needs to be addressed first.
Becker said her top priority as mayor would be to provide leadership, work with citizens to see what their priorities are and to support the police department. She said she knows the perception of the city is that it is not safe. But the stats show there has been a decrease in crime.
“I am a team player, and honestly, that is what municipal politics is all about,” she said in her closing statement. “I have the support of the city council members who are not up for election, as well as two of the candidates for common council.”
Dillon said his first priority is the city’s finances and bringing down debt, training and keeping police and promoting main street.
“If you care about your tax dollars, vote for me,” Dillon said in his closing statement. “If you care about policies that promote mainstream small businesses then consider voting for me.” He added voters who care about clean water, a safe community and transparency should also vote for him.