Economic debate creates rift

November 12, 1996


Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners and the business community are at odds over who should control economic development in the county.

The commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to reverse their June decision to form an independent economic development authority with the power to hire and fire its own director.

Tuesday's two-hour discussion was marked by heated exchanges, two motions that failed for the lack of a second, one motion that was defeated in another split vote and confusion over what finally had been decided.

When it was over no one appeared satisfied.

County Commissioner James R. Wade, who voted to reverse the earlier decision along with Commissioners John S. Shank and Ronald L. Bowers, described the meeting as "a pathetic demonstration of the board's inability to direct action on economic development."


"We certainly are sending mixed signals," Bowers said.

At issue is whether the County Commissioners or an authority comprised mainly of local business people will have the power to hire and fire the economic development director and direct the work of the economic development office.

Wade, Bowers and Shank argued that the commissioners should have authority over the economic development director.

County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioner R. Lee Downey supported a blue ribbon panel's recommendation to create an independent economic development authority.

Blue Ribbon Panel member Howard "Blackie" Bowen, president of Ewing Oil, said economic development efforts need to operate more like the private sector than like government.

"If it doesn't work, shame on the business community for not making it work but give us the tools to make it work," Bowen said.

Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce President Gary L. Wright said the commissioners would maintain control by appointing four of the authority's nine members and by funding it.

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