Missing from the next Harford County Council: a farmer

Is Harford farm community's political influence on the wane?

For the first time in its 42-year history, the Harford County Council won't have a farmer among its seven members when the new council is sworn in Dec. 1.

That won't, however, necessarily mean the local farming community won't be well represented in the new government, according to outgoing Council President Billy Boniface.

Boniface, whose family operates a thoroughbred horse breeding and training farm in Darlington, is leaving the council after eight years, having decided not to run for another term. Neither of the candidates to succeed him, nor any of the candidates for six district council seats on Tuesday's general election ballot, has farming experience.

"I guess it's a sign of the times," said Boniface, who was unaware of the change until it was brought to his attention.

"Still," he added, "I think Chad [Shrodes] does a good job. And Barry [Glassman] obviously understands and has worked with the ag community."

Shrodes has represented District D, which spans the northern Harford agriculture belt, for the past eight years and did not have an opponent in Tuesday's election. He and his family, though not farmers, have strong, long-standing ties to the ag community through his uncle David Shrodes' auctioneering business.

Glassman, who was expected to win the county executive's race Tuesday, raises market lambs at his home in Darlington. Like many of Harford's smaller farm operators – and some of the bigger ones as well – he has depended on other sources for his principal income, having worked as a BGE claims adjuster until retiring two years ago.

Glassman is also winding down a 16-year career as a state legislator. Prior to that, he represented District D on the county council from 1990 to 1998.

Though Harford has lost many farms to development over the past 50 years, the county's ag community still wields considerable political influence in local elections and in county government. Historically, most candidates for countywide offices have needed a strong vote from northern Harford to win elections.

Harford not only has one of the state's most aggressive ag land preservation programs, but also Boniface made it a point to expand the county government's outreach efforts with the ag community when he joined the council almost eight years ago.

Boniface, who is a close advisor to Glassman and may be joining his administration – something both have declined to discuss prior to the election – is one of three farmers to head the county council since its inception in 1972. The late John O'Neill was the first council president from 1972-74 and Robert Wagner from 2002-06. Wagner also was a district council member from 1990 to 2002.

Past district council members who were farmers include Edward Rahll, 1974-82; Edward Fielder, 1982-90; and Lance Miller, 1998-2006.

In the late 1980s, when all council seats were filled by countywide voting, some Harford ag community leaders became concerned the county's farm belt might be losing influence to the more heavily developing southern end.

The county changed to voting by district for council seats in 2002, the election in which Miller became the last farmer elected to a district council seat.

Boniface, however, said he believes the farm community will continue to be well represented both at the ballot box and on the council, whether its council representative is a farmer or not.

"I think it [in-district] voting gives the northern Harford County community the opportunity to be heard on the council and selecting who he or she is that represents them," he said, again citing the work done by Shrodes on behalf of local agriculture the past eight years.

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