Growth defines mayoral hopefuls

The three candidates for mayor all have different philosophies on how to manage growth in Mount Airy, a growing town that straddles the Carroll/Frederick county line.

On the town's most polarizing issue now - the Town Council's February annexation of a 152-acre farm - the three candidates are divided.


Residents will vote on that annexation in a referendum on the ballot for the May 1 election.

Closely tied to the growth issue is the question of how the town will obtain future sources of drinking water.


The three candidates for mayor in the May 1 election are:

Keith Gehle

As a veteran member of the town's planning and zoning commission, Gehle, 57, has voted on all proposed development in Mount Airy over the past 20 years.

He said he is proud of the subdivisions the commission approved: Nottingham, Summit Ridge, Summerwood and Sterling Glen.

Gehle served as chairman of the Planning Commission from 1994 to 2000 and as vice chairman since then.

In 1979, Gehle and his wife, Mary Ann, moved to Mount Airy with their daughter and son.

Gehle had a 32-year career in executive management at the FBI headquarters in Washington before he retired last year. He said the experience of managing hundreds of employees and multimillion-dollar budgets prepared him for mayoral duties.

Growing up on a dairy farm in Nebraska, Gehle enlisted in the Air Force and served during the Vietnam War. He finished college at the University of Maryland, College Park, graduating with a degree in criminology.


He said that identifying new water sources is necessary for future growth.

"We cannot close our doors to residential and commercial growth, or we will suffer higher taxes as citizens," he said Tuesday at an election forum at Parrs Ridge Elementary School.

Frank Johnson

Unlike his opponents, Johnson, 44, was previously elected to Mount Airy's Town Council. Elected in 2000, he served as council president for a year. In that role, Johnson was a strong advocate for the 2002 moratorium on residential growth.

Before considering any development, Johnson said, there must be a sufficient water supply for current homes and businesses. But he isn't convinced that the three future water sources proposed for Mount Airy, all multimillion-dollar projects, are essential.

"We need to consider more modest solutions as well," Johnson said. "Such as additional wells in certain quadrants. Recharge areas for the current system also need to be investigated."


Landing a job as Carroll County's municipal liaison in 2003 forced Johnson to resign from Town Council. For the past two General Assembly sessions, Johnson represented the county as legislative director in Annapolis.

Johnson said he fell in love with the Mount Airy area when he moved there 12 years ago with his wife, Dawn. A former Columbia resident, he doesn't want to see Mount Airy become as sprawling as the Howard County planned community.

Whether he is elected or not, Johnson said he will step down from his county post in May.

Johnson graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park and earned a law degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School. He has worked for Legal Aid and in the Montgomery County attorney's office.

Dick Swanson

When Swanson, his wife and family moved to Mount Airy 25 years ago, the town had no stoplights and only 2,500 residents. The town now has 8,500 residents.


"It was an ideal community to raise kids in and commute in two different directions," said Swanson, who retired last year from an audit management position with the Defense Contract Audit Agency in Gaithersburg and then Philadelphia.

Swanson, 61, said he wants to maintain Mount Airy's small-town charm yet still promote economic development by attracting new businesses.

On the annexation issue, Swanson tries to distance himself from the opposing camps. Yes, he will vote against the annexation. But in the vein of Mayor James S. Holt, he wants to "restore civility" to the Town Council and stop the bickering.

"I'm running independent from a certain agenda," he said. "I want to dramatically curtail residential growth. I also don't want to go into town hall and create chaos."

Before new development is approved, water comes first for Swanson. A new water source must first be identified for hundreds of homes that have been approved but not yet built, he said.

For 14 years, Swanson has served on the town's ethics commission, chairing it for the past 10 years. He also facilitates Holt's water advisory committee.


Swanson earned his undergraduate degree from the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania and a master's degree in business administration from Rutgers University.