Leroy Burtner was county's 'nuts and bolts' guy

August 19, 1997


Staff Writer

Anyone who's ever dealt with zoning, gotten a job or picked up a tourism brochure in Washington County has been touched in some way by the work of Leroy R. Burtner, who retired from county government July 1 after 20 years heading four different departments.

A Washington County native, Burtner, 60, worked stints with Pangborn, Mack Trucks and Potomac Edison in the 1960s before becoming county planning director from 1971 to 1973.

As planning director, Burtner helped shape the county's zoning and subdivision ordinances and comprehensive plan.

From 1978 to 1994, Burtner was the county's director of economic development, helping to attract businesses like Phoenix Color, the Review and Herald Publishing and Citicorp to help diversify the economy after downsizing at Mack Trucks and the loss of Fairchild Industries.


From 1994 to 1995, Burtner headed the Division of Economic and Community Development, a position that disappeared when Burtner took the job as director of county tourism.

Through June 30, Burtner headed the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau as it was forced to undergo a fundamental shift in direction that Burtner didn't always agree with.

"I couldn't argue against their basic premise," which was to shift more money from salaries to marketing, Burtner said.

But Burtner said the value of information centers such as the one in Breezewood, Pa., were underestimated.

Centers in Breezewood and Williamsport were shut down and the employees laid off by the Convention and Visitors Bureau transition team.

Breezewood, for example, cost about $50,000 to run and had about 100,000 visitors a year, Burtner said.

"When you think about it strategically, the visitors stopping there would have ample time to read a brochure (before reaching Washington County). In my opinion, it was very cost-effective."

Burtner said he was very proud of the employees, who continued to perform well even when they knew they were going to be laid off.

`He was effective'

On economic development, Burtner said the existing staff at the EDC - coordinators Sharon Disque and Beverly Baccala, have done a good job despite the absence of a director. But Burtner said the county needed to be looking years down the road, developing more industrial and business parks, because it often takes several years to get such a project up and running.

When he took over at the EDC in 1978, there was no catalog of available industrial sites. Burtner helped turn several parks into a reality, developing plans and attracting businesses to the I-70/I-81 Industrial Park, the Hagerstown Business Park and the Interstate Industrial Park.

Other county leaders praised Burtner's reliability and hard work.

"If I asked Leroy to do something, it got done," said Merle S. Elliott, president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF.

"He's not the most flamboyant guy in the world but I think he was effective," he said.

County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers praised Burtner's integrity and ability to get grants for the county.

Commissioner John S. Shank said Burtner knew the county like few others. "You name a road in the county and he knew where it was at."

Disque said Burtner kept the department focused on what worked. "He really made a point of sticking to the nuts and bolts of economic development."

Disque said Burtner would set clear goals but would leave it up to employees to find the best way to achieve them.

She also remembers Burtner giving out peppermint patties or taking people out to lunch.

"He was a lot of fun."

Competing demands

Burtner said the most difficult part of his job at the EDC was having to juggle the demands of many different groups of people - federal, state, city and county employees, the County Commissioners, Hagerstown City Council and the press.

Burtner said each year he would develop a work program to help stay focused.

"We had a direction in which to follow," he said.

In the meantime, Burtner found time to raise a son, Chris, 24, and daughter, Hope, 21. Burtner now spends his time at his home in Hagerstown contemplating the next stage in his career.

Burtner said he carefully considered but ultimately decided against reapplying for the job of Economic Development Commission director because he's looking for new challenges, possibly in real estate.

Burtner has some advice for the person who gets the EDC job.

Burtner said the key to the job was getting facts to the businesses in a professional and timely manner.

Companies aren't going to make multimillion-dollar decisions based on gimmicks, he said.

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