The race in Howard County's councilmanic District 5 poses a dilemma for voters. Both candidates are forces to be reckoned with, yet neither offers an overwhelmingly appealing agenda.
The good news: With one candidate per party, no decision need be made until the Nov. 8 general election. In the meantime, this race will test some fundamental dynamics about the district, which blankets Howard County's rural western half. Chief among these are the competing interests of old-time farming families and newer transplants who want to preserve the area's rural character.
Farmers have typically wanted to protect their right to sell and develop their properties. Other residents have sought to stop residential growth by citing its impact on the county's infrastructure and environment. The two candidates in this race reflect that dichotomy.
Incumbent Councilman Charles C. Feaga, the lone Republican candidate, has farmed in Howard County for nearly 40 years. He supports modest growth, including development of the 682-acre Waverly Woods development, which could encompass up to 1,000 new homes.
While we support that project, Mr. Feaga's position on micromanaging the county's school system is alarming. The councilman says he would like to impose a line-item veto on the school system so that the council can direct funds toward academic programs and away from administration. Such a radical departure from current practice would rob the school system of its independence and put educational decisions in a body not necessarily equipped to make those calls.
On the Democratic side there are other reasons for concern. The lone candidate, John W. Taylor, made a name for himself in recent years fighting county growth with vigor. He has since softened his anti-development stance, perhaps to broaden his appeal. Mr. Taylor, who came to the county six years ago, says there must be a balance between development and farm preservation, although he has yet to offer a reasonable plan to accomplish this objective.
Only District 5 voters will get to choose between these men. Yet in a sense, all county voters have a stake in this race. Howard County's quality of life and economic future could be altered by what happens here.