Tom Angelis and Phillip D. Bissett - GOP candidates who hope to challenge County Executive Janet S. Owens in the November general election - made last-minute political pitches at a debate organized by the Anne Arundel Republican Central Committee last night.
During the event at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, the candidates talked up their qualifications for the county's top elected position, which in coming years could require difficult budgetary decisions because of a worsening economy. State officials anticipate a $1 billion revenue shortfall in the coming fiscal year.
Angelis, 56, a high school teacher from Davidsonville, said his experience as a former police officer, salesman and county recreation and parks director have prepared him well for the job. He has said he would not increase taxes.
"I'm ready to move on to the next stage, and the next stage is to lead the county," he said.
Bissett, 45, a former lobbyist and state delegate from Mayo, talked up his blue-collar roots.
A former warehouseman for Giant Food Inc., he lost his first run for the General Assembly in 1990 but was subsequently appointed in 1991 to a vacant seat and then elected to a full four-year term in 1994. He was chairman of the county delegation in his last term, before being defeated in 1998.
"If you add up all the components of my experience, yes, I am qualified to lead," Bissett said. He has said he supports the voter-imposed tax cap and that he would put the county on a two-year budget planning cycle to better manage tax dollars.
Terry R. Gilleland Jr., chairman of the Central Committee and candidate for state Senate in District 32, was moderator of the debate, which focused on key issues such as education, development and public safety.
Both candidates said they would hold the school system more accountable for how it spends taxpayer dollars. Angelis said he would hire three county employees to provide better communications between elected officials and the school board. Bissett said he would set aside money as an incentive to the school board to spend wisely.
Angelis talked up his beat-patrol program to get police officers out of their patrol cars and into communities. Bissett criticized the Owens administration for spending $350,000 to paint police cruisers when the money could have been spent to hire officers.
Bissett also said he would include residents in the planning process whenever possible so that they wouldn't be surprised when developments pop up near their homes. Angelis said he would stick with a development plan - unlike Owens, he said.