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The armory fiasco

September 04, 1997

This week's decision by the City of Hagerstown to shut off water and power service to the former National Guard Armory on Potomac Street is an act of racial discrimination, according to the Rev. Philip Hundley, a black minister and the head of one of the two youth groups the move leaves without a home. City officials insist their only concern was the more than $3,000 in unpaid utility bills.

If there was racism in this incident, the hard proof is lacking. Even the Rev. Hundley says it was "real subtle." What seems more likely, based on our knowledge of the situation, is that officials of the previous city government didn't provide the leadership that could have turned the old armory into a new facility for youth.

Hundley's group, 21st Century Teens, at one time shared the armory with Has-Beens, Inc., a youth boxing club and the Hagerstown Soccer Club, which used the armory's gymnasium for winter practices. But even though some work has been done, the building is old and in need of major repairs to make it safe for youth activities.

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There was some hope that the three groups could form a coalition that would raise money for those repairs and run the facility without any additional expense to the city. But the Hagerstown Armory Youth Consortium dissolved this past March.

Since then the utility bills have been accumulating, including a water bill for one quarter that tops $3,000, which sounds suspiciously high. Chuck Fawley of the Maryland Department of General Services says it didn't evict Has-Beens and Hundley's group earlier this year at the request of two former city elected officials he would not name.

Three things are clear: Somebody associated with city government thought this partnership of youth groups might work. But nobody in government took the strong position the situation required to get everyone working together, and now a facility that might have served local children will sit empty instead. It may not be racism, but it's not anything to point to with pride either.

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