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Charles Town City Council races heat up at forum

May 02, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - The race for four seats on Charles Town City Council heated up Tuesday night during a NAACP forum in which area residents and candidates vented frustrations over city services, dilapidated buildings and one council member's attendance record.

Candidates also made it clear how they felt about annexations, which have gained public interest since Charles Town and Ranson began annexing hundreds of acres in recent years.

Seven people are running for council in the city's May 24 election, but two did not show up for Tuesday's forum at St. Philip's Episcopal Church on South Lawrence Street.

George Rutherford, president of the Jefferson County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he received a letter explaining why council member Lacie Mumaw and council candidate Mark Meredith decided not to participate.

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Rutherford questioned the wisdom of Mumaw and Meredith not attending the forum and Rutherford said he was told that the candidates would instead meet area voters at residents' homes.

Candidates and audience members talked about a problem with low water pressure from Charles Town's water plant and Ward I council candidate Ruth McDaniel said some areas of the city do not receive the same level of public services as other areas.

McDaniel also took issue with developers who promise businesses in developments but don't follow through.

One audience member questioned candidates about a local developer who got a density bonus in exchange for providing affordable housing. The affordable homes started at $200,000, the speaker said.

"We need to be hands-on and look at things. You need to look at what is going on in these developments," McDaniel said.

Council member Tim Robinson, who is running for re-election for the Ward II council seat, took some heat for council meetings he has missed.

Robinson said he sometimes misses council meetings because of family obligations. Robinson said he is also a pastor and sometimes needs to visit people in hospitals.

Rutherford took Robinson to task for dividing his time between council business and other duties and Rutherford said it comes at a time when many long-standing problems continue to exist in town.

"Something has to give," Rutherford said.

Jim Tolbert, president of the state NAACP and a Charles Town-area resident, said there is still a problem with dilapidated buildings in town, primarily in black neighborhoods.

The problem was first talked about 50 years ago, said Tolbert.

Tolbert criticized a city plan to fix dilapidated buildings and said "it must have been written by slumlords because it doesn't say anything."

Robinson defended the city's work on dilapidated housing, saying the city is proposing to refurbish the homes and turn them into affordable housing.

"All I can do is promise to do my best," Robinson said.

Regarding annexations, Ward III candidate Ann Paonessa said annexations can be a helpful tool for cities but can result in urban sprawl if they are not well managed.

Paonessa said city and county governments need to work together on development patterns and she favors "graceful growth" which protects the town's historic character.

Marylois Gannon-Miller, who is running against Robinson, said it is hard to say which annexations are appropriate. But Gannon-Miller said "a lot of boxes have to be checked" to win her support with annexations and said city services for current residents is a priority for her.

Gannon-Miller said she wants to focus on downtown revitalization and bringing high-paying jobs to the area.

Michael Slover, who is running against Mumaw, said he thinks annexation is the No. 1 issue in the city.

Slover said he wants more investment in the downtown area, although annexations can be key to take in commercial areas.

Slover said he does not want to get involved in a "land grab" with other cities and said annexations should not be approved unless it is guaranteed every resident has equal service.

McDaniel said whenever an annexation is presented to the city, council members should receive a report detailing what type of city services will have to be provided for the boundary expansion.

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