With a week until Town of Herndon voters go to the polls, candidates for Town Council and mayor made a mass media, last ditch effort to garner support of their fellow townsmen.
"This was excellent — I’m very proud of everybody," said former Town Councilman Richard Downer.
"They were definitely prepared," said Linda Downer who attended the seventh candidates’ forum with her husband.
The forum, held on Monday evening, April 29 and sponsored by the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce and HCTV-23, took place in the Town Council chambers in the Municipal Building. In addition to a panel of local print media representatives asking questions, the public attending and watching live on HCTV-23 were invited to call in with questions for the eight council candidates and two mayoral candidates.
"This was excellent — very well done," said Herndon resident Vi Bateman. "It didn’t drag on and everybody had good points. I thought O’ Reilly did an excellent job," she said referring to Councilman Michael L. O’ Reilly.
O’ Reilly, among several of the incumbents, said the council has been fiscally responsible during this term. "We reduced the tax rate two cents and the town manager insisted on a five percent reduction in town spending — the use of the undesignated fund balance — it was well in excess of what it should be," said O’ Reilly.
"Yes, we were very responsible — we have an outstanding credit rating," said Mayor Carol Bruce, seeking to return to the council after filling the vacancy left by the election last November of former Mayor Thomas Davis Rust (R-86th) to the House of Delegates. "We reduced taxes two cents with no impact on services, cut spending five percent, added critical positions — two officers and a new community inspector," said Bruce.
Challenger and Realtor Judy Downer agreed, saying she observed the council in action as she attended both public hearings and work sessions. "I’m truly impressed — they’ve done a fine job."
But incumbent Dennis Husch, saying he "relishes being a contrarian and a fiscal conservative, looked at the numbers." Husch noted that while the town experienced a 10 percent rise in the real estate assessments, the residents suffered the brunt of the increase at 16 to 18 percent. "The money is coming out of the homeowner’s pockets and we must balance the load. A five-cent reduction was more than justified," said Husch, adding that he has called for such a reduction the last several years during the budget hearings. The two-cent reduction from $.32 per $100 of assessed value to $.30 per $100 of assessed value is "a good first step. Hopefully we’ll be more critical in the future."
"I THOUGHT IT went well, but some issues were not addressed well enough," said Herndon resident Stacey Sinclair. "Only two people — Bill and Connie mentioned getting rid of some of the old zoning laws," said Sinclair, referring to mayoral candidate William "Bill" Tirrell, Sr. and council candidate challenger Connie Hutchinson, a former council member.
Responding to a question as to whether or not Herndon is anti-business, Tirrell said, "12 years ago we adopted a new comprehensive plan, but the zoning ordinance was not molded to the comprehensive plan. It’s archaic. We must have a new zoning ordinance. We must maintain our high standards of construction, appearance and landscaping and make sure they’re not diluted," said Tirrell.
"I take pride that it is a little difficult to put up a building in town," said O’ Reilly.
Yet with the talk of Herndon being supportive of business, Hutchinson pointed out that out of a $37 million budget, only $6,300 was designated for economic development.
OF THAT $37 MILLION, $7 million is earmarked for the new public safety facility — new police station. "That $7 million for the new police station is worth it," said challenger David A. Kirby. "My son just graduated from the Police Youth Academy and I’ve seen that place," he said referring to the former schoolhouse turned police station.
"They will have 54 sworn officers. It was full at 23. They now have trailers. They need the new facility to do their job," said Tirrell.
"When crime rates are down, we will have a vibrant downtown," said incumbent councilman Harlon Reese, supporting the cultural arts center and the future nature center at Runnymede Park.
Looking ahead, Councilman Richard "Rick" Thoesen, Tirrell’s opponent for mayor, said he would form three committees to deal with the budget, personnel and public safety, calling "Herndon the front door to Fairfax County."
Tirrell said he would seek council agreement to partner with not for profits organizations to solve the overcrowding. He then linked the parking and safety concerns to the overcrowding, saying those would dissipate once the overcrowding concern was handled.
"I will also ask council to relieve tax and fee burdens," said Tirrell referring to a recent proposal he made regarding the elimination of the car decal fee. "We need to control our own financial future. Rail needs to get here. We want to make Herndon a place to come to and not just a place to drive through," he said.
Downer also called for rail, as did O’ Reilly, who serves on the Dulles Corridor Rail Advisory Committee and the Northern Virginia Regional Commission. He said rail is coming and he is trying to ensure that Monroe Street will be one of the stations.
THE CANDIDATES discussed the abundance of day laborers waiting at bus stop areas on Alabama Drive, the necessity for them to learn English and become more acclimated in Herndon society.
"We need to work with these people and educate them," said Downer. "I think they’re here to stay. I don’t think they’re moving out."
"The town has no responsibility to buy land for a day laborer site. It’s not in our charter," said O’ Reilly. "The Neighborhood Resource Center is helping with ESL classes [English as a Second Language]. We need more outreach."
Bruce mentioned the benefits of organizations like Vecinos Unidos, adding, "The true solution will come with the children and the Head Start program. The day laborers need a site. I made the suggestion years ago that the best site is at the police department. It does not impact neighborhoods.
"This is a freedom of assembly issue," said Husch. "They have the right to wait for their ride to work." On the other hand, "loitering and littering laws should be vigorously enforced. We are not responsible for providing public assistance and public welfare."
"Many of the day laborers work in restaurants, hotels and do yard work. We need them," said Town Councilman John De Noyer. "But some of these people cause the problems. They don’t want to learn English. A new day laborer site will not solve the problem," he said.
"Diversity makes for a richer more interesting community. We run the risk of becoming a fragmented community," said Reece, who helped organize the diversity summit held last month. "We brought leaders of the town together and exceeded expectations. This is a problem that cannot be solved by government alone and needs the faith and business communities," he said.
Near the end of the two hour and 40 minute forum, moderator Mel Kampmann said, "If you don’t vote next Tuesday, May 7, don’t bitch."
The polls are open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. at the Herndon Community Center on Ferndale Road.