More than 40 people filled the seats in the Town Council Chambers Sunday afternoon to hear the 15 candidates listed on this Tuesday's ballot present their stance on a variety of issues ranging from overcrowding and neighborhood preservation to voting records and the trash ordinance.
The Candidates Forum was presented by the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce, in cooperation with HCTV, and featured the 12 candidates vying for six council seats: Ralph J. Beard, Philip B. Brooks, Carol A. Bruce, Mani B. Fierro, Dennis D. Husch, David A. Kirby, Joel F. Mills, Steven D. Mitchell, Ann V. Null, J. Harlon Reece, Carl I. Sivertsen and Darryl Smith in one question-and-answer session. The three mayoral candidates, Connie Haines Hutchinson, Michael L. O'Reilly and William B. Tirrell Sr. ended the evening with a session of their own.
The forum gave residents an opportunity to ask questions, either in person by writing them down on index cards, or by phoning them in from home. HCTV will rebroadcast the forum Wednesday, April 28, and Thursday, April 29, both at 7:30 p.m., then again Saturday, May 1, and Sunday, May 2, both at 4:30 p.m.
IN MANY CASES, the candidates did not differ on issues. For example, all of the candidates said one of the ways to combat the problems facing Herndon, such as the growing immigrant population, the day-laborer site, and the over crowding of residences, is through education and getting to know your neighbor.
"We have a responsibility to learn their culture. ... And they have a responsibly to learn English and our laws," said Brooks, who also said he would like to see a low-watt radio station created in town to carry governmental meetings, community news and local sports in English and Spanish. Fellow council candidates Smith and Kirby each cited the need for notices to be published in local newspapers in Spanish as a way to keep the immigrants informed and even encourage them to get more involved in the community.
THE COUNCIL CANDIDATES differed on their priorities for the fiscal year 2005 capital improvements programs. Their answers ranged from the final renovations of the community center (Kirby, Smith, Sivertsen, Mills, Beard), completing and outfitting the new police station (Brooks, Reece, Kirby, Smith, Mills, Bruce, Beard), road improvements including curb and guttering, and sidewalks (Brooks, Kirby, Husch, Sivertsen, Mills, Mitchell, Bruce, Null), making the downtown pedestrian friendly (Reece, Mitchell), youth-oriented activities (Reece, Bruce), downtown parking garage (Husch, Mitchell, Beard) and attracting more businesses (Beard). Null also said she would be willing to support core facilities.
"The town provides great services. ... I will work hard to make sure every dollar spent is spent well," said Fierro.
When all the council candidates were asked if they would vote if their thoughts about an issue differed from the citizens who spoke at a public hearing, they all said they would vote their consciences and do what they thought was best for Herndon as a whole. Public outreach before the hearing was key, they agreed.
"The percentage of people who come out to any public hearing is a small amount of the people we represent," Reece said. He went on to say the government system was set up so people can vote for the people they trust to represent them. "When they're no longer in touch with the citizens, there is a way to remove them."
SIMILARLY, the mayoral candidates had issues where they agreed, such as the how much the town should invest in the community arts center. All felt the town had already contributed enough and that it was the business community's turn to provide some funding. Hutchinson went further saying the project is simply too expensive for the town.
"I think the current scope and costs are more than we can comfortably handle," she said. "It's time to look to the private sector to pick up the ball and run with it."
All three also fully support rail to Dulles. And none felt the police spent too much time conducting speed traps.
"I tell all my friends to come to Herndon because we have all these wonderful community events," said O'Reilly. "And I tell them when they get to the town limits, slow down."
When asked by a member of the audience, O'Reilly and Tirrell said they support the revisions made to the trash ordinances, such as requiring lids on trashcans.
"One of the issues behind it was the safety to our employees," said Tirrell, "and the look of our neighborhoods."
Hutchinson, however, said it was impossible to enforce the measure unilaterally across town and called the ordinance draconian.
Another resident question asked the mayoral candidates if they would support an ordinance that requires key town employees — the town manager, police chief, director of public works and director of parks and recreation — to live in town. Hutchinson said she would support the measure for everyone but the parks and recreation director. Tirrell and O'Reilly would only require the town manager to reside in Herndon.