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Mayoral hopefuls focus on downtown


Hard-pressed to find any single issue driving city elections, candidates for Westminster mayor and Common Council have focused on more minor concerns such as parking, police benefits and downtown foot traffic.

City police want better benefits, and there aren't enough downtown parking spaces, candidates for mayor and two council seats say.

Hoping to succeed Mayor Kenneth A. Yowan, who announced in February that he would not seek re-election, are council members Suzanne P. Albert and Kevin E. Dayhoff.

Two challengers, Roy L. Chiavacci and Frank E. Wagner Jr., are in a race with incumbents Damian L. Halstad and Edward S. Calwell for two seats on the Common Council.

Westminster's population rose 28 percent in the past decade. Two building projects seen as critical to downtown development - the renovation of the old Carroll Theater and the building of an office, residential and retail structure on the long-vacant Farmer's Supply site - are in the works.

Westminster recently became the first municipality in the county to enact a property maintenance code in an effort to clean up run-down rental properties.

Parking needed

Downtown parking can have a major impact on the city's development, said Albert, who added that many of the residents she has spoken with mention parking as one of a their concerns.

"Certainly, today safe streets and safe communities are something people just expect and need to have," said Albert, a 68-year-old retired public health administrator and nurse. "But people also want to have a place downtown to park their car."

The parking situation is not acceptable, said Dayhoff, who wants to increase parking and foot traffic downtown.

"When you can't find parking, you go someplace else and that feeds into the foot traffic issue," said Dayhoff, 47, a self-employed businessman currently studying at Western Maryland College.

A 155-space parking garage on the Farmer's Supply site has been approved by the council. A planned parking deck on top of the Longwell Ave. parking lot would add 220 spaces.

Calwell counsels patience

"Patience is important right now," said Calwell, a 52-year-old council member who is seeking his fourth term. "We will satisfy the parking demand when these two projects come on line."

Albert, who has served on the council since 1995, moved to Westminster as a child. After raising a family in Anne Arundel County, she returned to the city in 1989. She is the chairwoman of the board of trustees of the Carroll County Rape Crisis Intervention Services and volunteers with the Carroll County Bureau of Aging.

Albert said she is in favor of downtown development but that it is also important to maintain the community's character.

"I want to ensure the city of Westminster's image stays historic and quaint," said Albert, who is proud of her suggestion to save the bell in the clock tower of the old fire hall when the city's fire department moved to its new building. "That bell still rings on the half hour and the hour, and it thrills me," she said.

Dayhoff is a Westminster native who has lived most of his life in or near the city. A member of the Maryland Municipal League's board of directors, he has served on a number of county and state boards.

Dayhoff said he thinks Westminster is due for a comprehensive economic development study of its downtown. He also supports making Railroad Avenue (Route 27) "our main entrance and the gateway into the community."

Yowan, Westminster mayor since 1994, said he decided not to run for re-election because he plans to retire soon from his job as a physicist and would like to spend more time with his family.

Internships, skating rink

Council candidate Chiavacci, 57, a Carroll Lutheran Village vice president and a retired state police captain who is a member of the city's planning and zoning commission, said he would like to strengthen the relationship between Westminster and Western Maryland College.

"I'd like to develop some internship programs as they relate to city government," he said.

Council President Halstad, who is seeking a third term, said he is looking forward to seeing a number of city projects - including the hiring of a new economic development coordinator - come to fruition. He also said he would like Westminster to examine the feasibility of having an ice-skating rink.

"There's a huge void right now," said Halstad, a 39-year-old attorney. He said the $300,000 project would require state funding. "There's not an ice rink in the entire county."

Police pensions

The retention and benefits packages for city police officers are also an issue this election.

The Common Council agreed this year to allot $24,000 to research the possibility of creating a city pension program for Westminster police officers.

Officers, like other city employees, are covered under a state pension plan requiring 30 years service for full retirement. The city would like to provide police with pension eligibility after 25 years service.

This year, more than two dozen members of the Westminster Police Department joined the International Union of Police Associations in a bid to improve wages and benefits, and to dissuade officers from leaving for higher-paying jobs.

"Two years ago the city promised its police officers it would look at the pension issue," said Wagner, a Baltimore police sergeant and council candidate who wants to reform the police pension plan. "The problem is, the city is still making promises on pensions."

A new police pension plan would cost the city money, Wagner said, but would lead to retaining more officers.

"You're going to hire officers who want to make Westminster a career, not just a steppingstone," said Wagner, 41.

Voting is tomorrow

Westminster has 7,117 registered voters. In the most recent city election, in 1999, 434 people voted to fill three council seats, according to City Clerk John Dutterer.

Voting will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow. Precinct 1 voting will be at Westminster Fire Department, 28 John St. Precinct 2 voting will be at the Greens Community Center, 325 Royer Road.

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