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Take a side in Boonsboro? Not me

May 11, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

Is it right that the wife of Boonsboro Mayor Skip Kauffman is running for a town council seat, opening potential conflict of interest questions should both be elected to the board?

I don't know.

Well, what did you expect me to say? I shop in Boonsboro, get my lawnmower repaired in Boonsboro, eat in Boonsboro. I know the parties involved, know people who are related to the parties involved and, all in all, have more dogs in this hunt than Robert Brooke.

So you will please excuse me if I take a big fat pass on the issue.

Cindy Kauffman is up against Barb Wetzel for one open seat on the council - both women are active in the town and have family histories in Boonsboro politics.

But not quite as much of a family history as would be the case if Cindy wins. I know there have been some pretty remarkable husband and wife teams in history. Maybe the Kauffmans could be the Pierre and Marie Curie of Boonsboro.

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But there have been some well-documented familial train wrecks too. I remember the Damron brothers in the West Virginia Legislature - one would take the floor, glare at the other and say something to the effect that he was just glad their mother wasn't around to see the way he was voting on such-and-such an issue.

Personally, I might think that a husband-wife pairing on the council would be harder on the marriage than on the town.

I've heard some people lament that there is nothing in the law to prevent a husband and wife from serving on the same elected board - but this is patently untrue. There is something in the law that prevents it, and it's called the voters. If they find the arrangement disagreeable, it is clearly within their power to say so in a decision for which there is no judicial appeal.

There may be a sense that having the name "Kauffman" is an unfair advantage for Cindy, since Skip has proved to be a good and popular mayor. But there are also people who will not vote for her, simply because the idea of nepotism, real or imagined, sticks in their craw. My guess is that it's a wash.

The problem, or should I say perceived problem, of a husband-wife team on the council is this: Representative government is in place to put as many of the people in touch with power as possible. When one "team," if you will, takes up two spaces on a small council, that would seem to subtract one point of contact for the people.

If you know one Kauffman, chances are you know both. But what of the person who does not have the ear of either, but might have the ear of one who does not live in the Kauffman household - in this case Wetzel?

A diverse group of listeners and a diverse set of opinions on any elected board is a good idea.

And that does not only apply to husbands and wives. Over the years, there have been times that most of the Hagerstown council members came from the same neighborhood. While this was great for that particular neighborhood, other parts of the city did not receive as much attention.

This wasn't because these individuals were bad council members; but they just naturally knew more about the needs and concerns of their particular community.

Husbands and wives usually become husbands and wives because they share similar interests, similar causes and similar views. These may be great causes and solid views but, if both are elected, it concentrates town energy on their concerns, perhaps to the detriment of other equally worthy concerns.

This argument, however, is not without holes. There seems to be a consensus - reaching far beyond the Boonsboro town limits - that when two people marry, they immediately lose their individuality.

They become as one, as the Bible says. Obviously the Bible has never met James Carville and Mary Matalin, two political pundits on opposite poles who fight like cats on television, but apparently maintain a quite cordial marriage.

So it might be a mistake to automatically assume the Kauffmans would act in lockstep on the council. In the end, Boonsboro residents are probably best served to treat this election as they would any election. Get as much information as possible about each candidate and vote for the person who best represents your views.

And Boonsboro can be grateful for this: It has two qualified candidates running for office who are interested and active in town affairs. That's a problem a lot of towns would love to have.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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