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EDC privatization plan rejected

November 26, 1996

By ELLEN LYON

Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners decided Tuesday, in a 4-1 vote, to structure the county's new economic development commission much like the old one and keep its director under county control.

The economic development director will be a department head answering directly to County Administrator Rodney M. Shoop.

A nine-member commission will make recommendations to the County Commissioners on the hiring and firing of the economic development director and set policy and marketing directions, County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said.

A committee of business leaders appointed by the commissioners earlier this year strongly recommended that an independent economic development authority be created with the power to hire and fire its own director.

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The committee argued that economic development in the county should be run by business leaders, according to the standards of private industry.

Some business leaders expressed disappointment with the commissioners' action.

"There's no point in having a blue ribbon committee if you don't want to listen to them," said Phillip Rohrer, a member of both the old economic development commission and the committee that recommended an independent authority.

"This whole exercise has been for no reason. If everything is as it was before, then a tremendous amount of time has been wasted," he said. "Rod Shoop is not a businessman. He's a retired Air Force officer. I think the county is making a big mistake by not trying to work with business."

The county lists Rohrer as an appointee of the new economic development commission but he said he has not been asked to serve and would have to hear what the rules are before accepting the appointment.

Peggy Bushey, a county appointee to the new economic development commission, resigned last week from the Water and Sewer Advisory Commission, along with three other members, because she said the County Commissioners ignored recommendations.

Bushey said this Board of County Commissioners tends to micromanage, which could be a problem when it comes to economic development.

"Consistently, they don't accept recommendations," she said. "I'm hopeful they've learned."

Commissioners Vice President John S. Shank, who cast the lone dissenting vote, predicted "we're going to have a lot of resignations (from the new economic development commission) before we even get started. The business people are not going to serve and be a rubber stamp."

Commissioner James R. Wade said the commission won't rubber stamp decisions but will provide advice and direction on economic development.

"I think the commission should have some more authority of some kind to make it effective," Shank said.

The county can appoint four members to the new economic development commission, the Chamber of Commerce has two appointments and the Greater Hagerstown Committee, the City of Hagerstown and other municipalities in the county each have one appointment, Snook said.

The county will fund the economic development commission with a budget similar to what it has received in the past, Shoop said.

The county's 1997 budget includes $214,300 for the economic development commission, which has been operating without a director since last fall when the commissioners removed Richard Palmer from that post.

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