District 5 Candidate Forum Highlights Agreement On Issues, Disagreement On Solutions

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PERRY HALL - The League of Women Voters hosted a forum on Monday night where Crystal Francis and David Marks shared their plans for Baltimore County.

Marks and Francis are running to represent Baltimore County Council District 5, which encompasses Perry Hall, White Marsh, Bowleys Quarters, and the surrounding areas.

Monday night's forum highlighted a shared sense of goals for the district but differing approaches to achieving those goals. In their opening statements, both candidates noted crime, infrastructure, and public schools as significant concerns within the county.

For Francis, public school performance, housing disparities, and crime are symptoms of poverty and inequity.

"I want to address the root causes of crime," she said. "Ensure that individuals who do not have access to affordable housing, education, and employment get access to the things they need."

Many of Francis's remarks focused on alleviating poverty to solve a wide array of the county's problems. She touted her experience in criminal justice and noted that investing in reducing prison recidivism is a money-making venture for Baltimore County.

"For every dollar that we invest [in decreasing prison recitivism], we yield five dollars on that investment," she said.

Marks Leaned on his community development experience and spoke about bipartisanship as a solution to getting things done in the county. Many of Marks' proposals are centered around using zoning tools to improve quality of life.

He specifically cited overdevelopment in White Marsh, Perry Hall, and Bowleys Quarters, mentioning his defeat of the LaFarge site and the crane plant at Bowleys Quarters as zoning success stories.

Although none of Monday night's questions focused on the issue, both candidates spoke about the rising safety problem in Baltimore County Public Schools.

Continuing on her theme of equity, Francis said that problems at home usually cause incidents of violence at school.

"I want to focus on reducing School violence by not just having more school resource officers, but making sure that there is necessary training for our teachers and our students on de-escalation and how to report School violence so that it's not only addressed inside the school but that we can resolve those challenges that are coming from home."

Marks noted his role in getting new school buildings built in White Marsh and Perry Hall while also touting his career as a public school teacher.

"I'm the only public school teacher on the Baltimore County Council. I understand that we need to improve the culture of school learning but also the physical facilities. I'm proud that we've Advanced new schools in White Marsh and Perry Hall. Now we need to do the same elsewhere."

On the issue of food deserts and food security in Baltimore County, Marks touted his role as the only republican member of the county council who voted for a pilot program to look at nutrition access across the county.

He also recommended using zoning tools to allow for more grocery stores in areas classified as food deserts, such as Essex and Middle River.

Francis is looking to improve access to farmers' markets in the district. She also proposed using the free school lunch and breakfast program to help serve entire families.

Both candidates favor adding new bus routes to district 5, re-surfacing roads, and preparing the district's infrastructure for the effects of climate change.

Marks and Francis sparred on how to solve the lack of affordable housing in Baltimore County, with Francis urging innovation to solve housing needs.

Francis said, "the root cause is affordability itself" and suggested programs to reduce debt as a catalyst for improving housing access. Francis believes that by reducing household debt, more families will be able to afford suitable living conditions.

Marks wants to use zoning tools to allow for more multi-family developments but was tentative about allowing for more large-scale apartment buildings.

"I will not support, for example eliminating the dr-1 and dr2 Zoning classifications that are protecting a lot of our waterways and open space," he said. "I will not support expanding The rural demarcation line that protects our rural North."

He urged caution on building more affordable housing units without considering the surrounding area and access to community resources.

Francis also expressed trepidation about increasing the number of apartment complexes in the district.

"community members don't want to see trees going down and apartment buildings going up."

To watch the forum in its entirety, visit the League of Women Voters website or YouTube.

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