After the opening speeches by the House District 97 candidates (www.CarrollCoNews.com/story/1901120.html), Carroll County Judge Sam Barr and his Republican challenger Andrew Wilhelm took turns at the podium. And while some in the audience were audibly holding their breath awaiting a statement from Wilhelm -- whose wife died the previous week -- it was Barr who almost got choked up instead.
After opening by joking with Mike Bishop, organizer of the candidates' forum, and thanking the voters for allowing him to serve, the county judge described his background, explaining he is a lifelong Carroll County resident, and his father was a disabled Baptist minister. But it was his mother, he said, who inspired him most to be a hard worker.
"My mother, I didn't think there was any job I couldn't do if she was by my side," he said slowly, apparently fighting back tears. "She instilled in me if you start something don't give up, complete it. So I'm very proud to work for you and that office belongs to you, not to me."
Barr recalled a few accomplishments of his administration, noting that the enormous ice storm of 2009 hit just a "few days" after he took office.
"I swung a chain saw like the rest of the men ... trying to see that you people could get out," he said. "My heart is with the people of Carroll County."
Barr boasted about his administration's plan during the ice storm to hire local workers and rent out the county's own equipment for the storm clean-up instead of hiring an outside company to do the work. As a result, he said, the county collected enough from FEMA to cover the county's portion of the cost of that clean-up.
The judge also said he was proud of his staff at the courthouse, saying, "God has sent me an excellent bunch of people, including the elected officials who work with me. If you surround yourself with good people, you'll do a lot of good work."
Next up was Republican county judge candidate Andrew Wilhelm, who lost to Barr in the last election by about 4 percent of the votes cast.
A product of Berryville public schools, Wilhelm joined the U.S. Army in 1987, serving the nation for two decades in several different countries including Afghanistan before retiring five years ago and returning to Carroll County.
"Government officials are servants to the public and ... have a responsibility to the public with their resources and (to maintain) honesty...," Wilhelm explained of his beliefs. He went on to pledge to provide these things and more to the voters of the county if elected county judge.
Wilhelm noted that the role of a county judge and a Quorum Court is to provide a system of checks and balances on each other to prevent heavy-handedness or erroneous judgments by any one government office, and he said he looked forward to working alongside the JPs.
"Like they say, in a multitude of counselors, there is safety," he said.
"To simply react to these as they come, and worry about how to pay for them later, is not of good value to the taxpayers of this county," Wilhelm said, referring to the need of a county judge to be a good manager and administrator.
A productive plan for providing a balanced budget, or providing upkeep for infrastructure, or having a plan in place for disasters are all important despite requiring much effort in the planning and drafting phase, he emphasized. "But the end result is a better run county government," he said.
Aside from these issues, Wilhelm said, his reasons for running for office are that he believes "our system of government is the best it can be when its citizens care enough to make necessary sacrifices to ensure their government is held to the highest standards of conduct and fairness."
"This can be done through public oversight, by staying informed on the issues and on what (officials) are doing, or by running for office if necessary," he continued. "My wish is to provide the proper attitude and foresight to the office of county judge. This is fueled by the belief that I have the right set of skills and the drive to perform the job better ... and in a more efficient fashion than ever before."
He said he doesn't want to change things for the sake of change, but to use new and better methods in the county judge's office when appropriate "that will make Carroll County residents proud of their local government and officials."
In closing, the solemn-faced Wilhelm broached the topic everyone had seemed to be waiting for: He said thank you for the recent well-wishes, referring briefly and indirectly to his wife's passing.
"I feel a debt of gratitude to the people of this area for their friendship, faith and family values," Wilhelm said. "I would be remiss if I did not mention the outpouring of love and support I and my family have received after our recent loss. Thank you for the support."
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Editor's note: Video of Barr's and Wilhelm's speeches can be viewed at www.CarrollCoNews.com/story/1900799.html. To view all the videos from the candidates' form, check out the Carroll County News Playlist on the managing editor's YouTube channel at www.YouTube.com/user/klkuykendall.
The third and final report from the candidates' forum, covering the sheriff's candidates' speeches and the county clerk candidate speech, will appear in Friday's Weekend edition of the Carroll County News.