Joanne S. Parrott and Theresa M. Pierno, the two Harford County councilwomen running for the County Council presidency, spent much of their first and perhaps only debate arguing over whether they are alike or different.
In their first head-to-head meeting Thursday, moderated by the League of Women Voters at John Carroll School and taped for cable television viewers, each cited her citizen-friendly voting and claimed to be the candidate for what has become the battle cry of the 1994 campaign -- "managed growth."
Mrs. Parrott, of Fallston, told the audience of about 200 that the two women were essentially in agreement on voting record and philosophy.
"We are both environmentalists who are concerned about controlling growth," Mrs. Parrott said in her opening statement and again in her closing. "We both voted for all the major environmental and growth-management bills that began during my first term and were passed by the council during the past four years."
She said their only differences were that she was the more "experienced" legislator and she would look out for the welfare of the taxpayer.
"I will cut spending and will eliminate council perks," she said. "But the biggest difference is that as council president I pledge to vote no for all new or increased taxes."
But Mrs. Pierno, a Bel Air resident, said the two were not at all alike in philosophy or voting record and reminded listeners that it was she who hitched up the managed-growth bandwagon that others are now jumping on.
At the close of the debate, Mrs. Pierno objected vehemently to her opponent's claims. "I hope what you heard is that there are many differences between us," she said. "We are not similar on environmental legislation or managed growth."
She talked about the Forest Conservation Act that requires developers to preserve a certain percentage of trees when constructing new developments, the first significant piece of legislation she introduced after her election in November 1990.
"I didn't have to say tonight that I voted for the tree bill too. Because I did the tree bill. I worked for six months on that bill."
Mrs. Parrott reminded listeners that she voted for several other environmentally sensitive measures, including the rural plan, a bill to preserve farmland by paying farmers for their development rights, and a three-part series of adequate public facilities laws requiring sufficient schools, water and sewerage and roads to be in place before new development can be approved.
Council records show Mrs. Parrott in 1993 voted against the bill that requires adequate water and sewer facilities, and this year she voted against Mrs. Pierno's amendments to the roads bill, which would have given that segment of the adequate public facilities laws more teeth.
In addition, Mrs. Pierno said, Mrs. Parrott introduced an amendment in 1992 to the first part of the facilities legislation -- concerning schools' adequacy -- that would have made it easier for developers to get approval on building new homes in areas with overcrowded schools. Her amendment failed.
While growth-management talk dominated the sometimes heated exchanges, the two also argued over economic development, the budget and taxes. And the debate was not without some sniping.
Mrs. Parrott, 53, who has spent two terms on council, as opposed to Mrs. Pierno's one, cited her experience, maturity, and 35 years in Maryland among her "differences."
"I have served on the council for eight of the 10 years my opponent has lived in Harford County," she said. "I was involved in my first environmental project while she was still a teen-ager. -- While she was living in New Jersey, I led the fight against a major oil company on a zoning issue."
When Mrs. Pierno, 36, who admittedly has alienated many developers and business people with her get-tough, sometimes uncompromising stance on regulating development, made a pitch for the small businessman, her opponent responded with an icy comment.
Mrs. Pierno told listeners there should be a "fast-track for small businesses" not unlike the county executive's existing "fast-track" program that allows large businesses that want to come to the county to move swiftly through the county's development approval process.
"I'd like to thank [economic development director] Paul Gilbert for suggesting the fast-track idea for small businesses," Mrs. Parrott said when her turn came.
In a rebuttal, Mrs. Pierno again claimed authorship of the idea, saying she first discussed it with James Fielder, Mr. Gilbert's predecessor, more than a year ago.
Mrs. Pierno also called for tax incentives for small businesses and for efforts to revitalize business strips in the county's municipalities.
Mrs. Parrott, who calls herself "the candidate for business," chastised Mrs. Pierno for voting against a proposal that would have opened up 400 acres in Perryman, already zoned for commercial-industrial use, to the potential sale to a large employer by moving it up in line for public water and sewer service.
The proposal that came before the council in the spring of 1993 during the administration's semi-annual water and sewer update was defeated 4-3. The request, originated by the economic development director, again came before the council last fall. That time, all seven council members voted against it.
During a portion of the debate allowing the candidates to challenge one another, Mrs. Parrott questioned why Mrs. Pierno voted for tipping fees charged to trash haulers and for the transfer tax, a controversial tax on real estate transfers approved in 1993. Its approximately $5 million annual proceeds are divided equally between financing the county's agricultural land preservation program and school construction.
Mrs. Pierno said she supported the tipping fee because it supports the county's recycling program, which she has supported as critical to a successful waste disposal plan. And, in her closing statement, she defended her transfer tax vote, referring to a 1990 voter referendum as she addressed the audience:
"Yes, I did vote for the transfer tax, because you voted 3-1 for a strong agricultural preservation program and for better schools."