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Democratic Jefferson County Commission candidates debate

March 27, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- Six Democratic candidates for the Jefferson County Commission debated Tuesday night how the commission should budget its money, attract business, strengthen agriculture, and view gambling, toll roads and land use during a forum at the Jefferson High School auditorium.

For the most part, the forum consisted of civil, in-depth discussions of issues facing the county as the candidates get ready for the May 13 primary election.

In one of the more-heated moments, Greg Lance accused Lyn Widmyer of being on the "inner circle" of county politics.

Lance said current Commission President Frances Morgan said on a radio show that she supported Widmyer and Kit McGinnis because they support Morgan's view of county issues.

Widmyer responded by saying that she stands for open government and has done so for 26 years.

The first part of the forum featured the four Democratic candidates for the Harpers Ferry seat on the commission. They are Lance, Widmyer, Steven Pace and Ed Burns.

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Then Democrats Patsy Noland and McGinnis, who are running for the Kabletown commission seat, debated.

Candidates answered questions from a panel and from spectators, who numbered about 100.

In opening the debate for the Harpers Ferry seat, Burns said "mistakes and blunders" have plagued the commission and declared, "I'm separate from the good ol' boys club."

Lance said the commission has been a "one-issue county government" in regards to land use and said it is time to take back county government because it is "imploding."

Pace said "ruinous sprawl" is overtaking the county and he does not want to see it taking over farms and the beauty of the county.

Widmyer said this year's elections will affect the county for years to come and said she is concerned about securing good jobs and affordable housing and open space for the county.

Land-use regulations for the county - or zoning - came up frequently in the discussions and sometimes drifted into other subjects.

All four Harpers Ferry seat candidates said they supported allowing zoning to be put on the ballot for voters to decide, which has been a controversial issue. All four candidates also said they supported allowing table games for Charles Town Races & Slots to be put on the ballot again, although Pace said he has had "a lot of internal struggle" about it.

The candidates were asked about the future of the county's agriculture industry and whether they would support biofuel projects in the county.

Pace said he would support the idea and suggested some research be conducted and look how other communities have done it. Widmyer and Lance also supported the idea. Burns said the discussion had come "full circle" back to zoning and whether it would be allowed in the county under the laws.

All four candidates strongly disagreed with the idea of toll roads for the area.

In the Kabletown seat debate, McGinnis said building houses for those people abandoning Washington, D.C., is not the answer for the county's future and said a more vibrant economy is needed.

McGinnis is working on a proposal to make a group of Washington family homes in the county part of the National Park System. Not only would the attraction be an economic benefit for the county, but it preserves local history, McGinnis said.

Noland said more emphasis needs to be put on the county's tourism draws to liven the economy. Noland also said she wanted to see more high-tech jobs for the county and likes the development approach that was undertaken for The Marketplace at Potomac Towne Center in Ranson, W.Va.

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