Thursday, April 06, 2006

Candidate Forum Reax Round Up...

Leave it to the bloggers to do a better job covering the candidate forum than the old media. Actually, I can’t really say bloggers had “better” coverage, as their’s was the only coverage of the event – although the local reporter for the Baltimore Examiner was apparently in attendance.

I was the only Howard County blogger to not attend the festivities. Despite my strong desire to watch the maturity level in the room drop as the questions dragged on, I thought having all four of us in the same place at the same time might result in a “crossing the streams” scenario, something you only want to invoke with the totality of human existence hangs in the balance.

Actually, that’s not why I didn’t go and neither was my fear of revealing my tightly-guarded true identity (I have many disguises for that). I didn’t go because, quite simply, I had something much more important going on (and yes, there are things more important than local politics…I think). If I told you what I was doing, you would surely agree with my decision, but some of my anonymity would likely fade at the same time. One day, maybe soon, I’ll stop playing this game and come out with it, at which time I’ll share with you the fuzzy details of my absence from the forum and blogging last night.

Anyway, so what went down? David Wissing and Howard County Blog #1 have posted lengthy recaps, while Evan Coren at Howard County Blog #2 promises more details tonight. From what I gather, there wasn’t much new on the county executive front. Here’s Wissing’s take:

…Merdon and Ulman began the question and answer period attacking each other and pretty much kept it up throughout the entire forum. Merdon mainly focused on Ulman’s lack of management experience while Ulman spent most of his time criticizing Merdon’s past votes on a myriad of topics. Frankly, it is stuff I’ve heard over and over again from both sides, so there really wasn’t anything new for me to really learn.
That’s not terribly surprising. When you spend as much time following local politics as we do, things begin to sound a little repetitive. HCB1, on the other hand, highlighted a question about leadership.
Merdon sounded like someone who has been managing a great deal of people for a long time. The principles he articulated (rather easily as an experienced manager should).

Lead by example. The people one leads look and expect that in a leader so don’t shy away from it. Set annual goals, reach out and communicate with employees, set direction but seek input so all employees feel that they own the goals and the results. In Government it is slightly different. The County Executive also has to lead the citizens and that requires disappointing some people some times, especially when hard decisions are required. Merdon launched into his resume and management experience in a Fortune 500 company, and the difficulty of managing over 2,000 county employees and 23 various departments, and a $1 billion budget.

Ulman thinks that character is more important than management experience. He would appoint strong directors to the County Agencies. Sorry, a very weak answer. Yes, character counts – Merdon has a great deal of character. Harry Dunbar is a character. Character is not leadership.
Lost in my snarky post from last week about a different candidate forum was my belief that Merdon’s leadership “dog” just won’t hunt. Business management experience does not guarantee one will be an effective leader, nor does it guarantee one will have any idea how to handle the different management style of government. Leadership is for the most part a quality that either you have or you don’t. Managing is something you can learn.

We have plenty of people managing our county government, but we only have one person leading it. It is up to the leader – the county executive – to ensure that we have the right managers, not to oversee the actions of every individual employee. Bureaucracy breeds over- or micro-management. In short, we don’t need more management. We need more leadership. Let’s not confuse the two.

I’m glad to see that both bloggers were glad to see the issue of politicizing the county website was only briefly touched upon. Let’s just forget it was even brought up.

I’m also glad to see they both had interesting takes on Harry Dunbar, someone I assume neither has had the opportunity to see before. As you can see above, HCB1 refers to him kindly as “character,” while Wissing had this to say:
Meanwhile, and I hate to say this about someone running for office because I am sure he really believes what he is saying, but Harry Dunbar pretty much provided the comic relief for the night and not much else. Dunbar’s entire campaign is based on one issue, slow growth, and spent the entire debate criticizing both Ulman and Merdon for their votes and touting his website.
I find it hard to be critical about Dunbar for the same reason Wissing does: he is refreshingly earnest. But that doesn’t make him right.

Following the portion of the forum involving the county executive candidates, the candidates for the District 5 council seat took the stage, and HCB1 even got to act as a moderator. For more about this portion, I’m afraid you’re going to have to go straight to the horses' mouths, here and here and, soon enough, here. For now, I have to run.


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