Brown, Phillips, two intriguing commissioner candidates

July 07, 2002

Brown, Phillips, two intriguing commissioner candidates

Washington Countians are nothing if not vigilant against crises.

All things considered, the current Board of County Commissioners is probably the most competent of all our elected panels. Urgently seeking to rectify this situation, no fewer than 18 challengers have stepped up looking to change the makeup of the board.

The school board and state-lawmaker delegation, two outfits desperately in need of a talent injection, have enjoyed no such rush to the rescue. Indeed, in the last weeks before the filing deadline, more candidates dropped out of the delegate races than filed to run.

You would think, as much grousing (legitimately, I might add) as has been done over the School Board, that a lot of folks would be lined up to run in the name of reform.


There are three open seats, and three people have filed.

I am particularly interested to see Russell Williams on the board. He's a little eccentric at times, but hey, who isn't? He will be a good watchdog and bring a much-needed fresh perspective to the board. It's hard to believe Williams would have allowed some of the closed-door foibles that have dogged the board over the past few years to occur.

I also loved his answer to a question in the debates last time around: "Yes we need a committee to study school consolidation and I don't want to be on it."

Speaking of those debates, where did all the rest of the candidates go? Two years ago the stage looked like a Key West conga line. What, is everyone scared of Betty? Or does the commissioner pay scale look that much more attractive?

Even board members Dori Nipps and Herb Hardin bolted to run for County Commissioner - trusting, I suppose, that the public will forget that they were ever members of the school board. I wouldn't be surprised to see them in future debates wearing a fake nose and glasses.

Nipps I can understand. She must have grown weary of being associated with the others. Hardin, building on his success as school board president where he once told a reporter he hadn't read a report that he himself helped write - and later said he disagreed with it - must be counting on a lot of short memories in the ballot box.

I'm sure I'll end up rooting for Nipps because I think she's one of the good people in public office, but I'm a little nervous over this board-members-as-kudzu paradigm, by which they are spreading to other offices. I guess that's one way of getting the commission to "fully fund" the education budget.

As for the board of commissioners, where it seems the entire cast of "Bridge on the River Kwai" has tossed its hat into the ring, I don't even know where to start.

The Almighty knows when the tiniest sparrow falls from the sky, but if a commissioner candidate were to drop and the deity failed to mark it, He could be excused the oversight. In all, there are 22 candidates for five seats, including four incumbents.

Why? Are that many people upset over conditions at the Humane Society? They want to restore the words "under God" to the county's proposed Comprehensive Plan?

I don't know everyone on the list, so if you're the second coming of Charlemagne and I leave you out, I apologize. But two people I would like to see on the board are Republican Hal Phillips and Democrat Jim Brown.

Both are good men of action and ideas. Better, I have a hunch their ideas may not always be mutually compatible. The only thing better would be to have a commission that included John McEnroe and Tatum O'Neal.

I recommend, no, I demand, that you visit Phillips' website (replete with quotes by Thomas Jefferson and Paul Bailey) at Then let me sit behind your shoulder and chuckle as your brain turns into vanilla yogurt faster than you can find the ~ key.

I don't know that we can handle both Phillips and Bill Wivell on the same board. Sting's "Murder by Numbers" would acquire a dismal plausibility as we suffer through death by accounting.

But through and beyond all the facts and figures, Phillips has important things to say. In particular, his link to "Washington County's Cost of Government" is instructive.

Two items worthy of attention are these:

1. From 1990 to 2000, Washington County's population grew at a meager 5.7 percent, from 121,400 to 128,300.

2. In the same period, the county's general fund revenue increased 79 percent, from $66.6 million to $119 million.

The page goes on in great detail, but knowing the two above facts, you can deduce the rest: In a decade, the county increased spending by $52.5 million, bolstered only by an additional 6,900 people. Ergo, taxes and borrowing must have - well, you know. Phillips will anger some in the establishment with his treatise on taxes and test scores, but if you can handle the truth, take a gander at his website.

If Phillips' strength is details, I get the sense that Brown's strength is context. Brown is what they call a vision man, which is something any county can sorely use - someone who looks beyond next Tuesday's meeting.

He also has a record of success, both with his Hagsertown Community College basketball team and on projects such as the college's stellar field house. He's proved he's a man who can get things done. In a field of 22, there are bound to be some good candidates, and I'll throw these two out for starters. The pity is that they are not running for state delegate or senator.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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