A new contest- What should county candidates learn?

February 25, 1998

A new contest- What should county candidates learn?

(Editor's note: See the end of this column for details on one of our periodic contests, in which creative letter writers can win prizes.)

After spending more than 20 years observing election contests in Washington County, sometimes I still have to wonder: How do the candidates come up with some of the stuff they say?

Now before I react to some of the things I've read, let me first say this: Running for office is tough. Anyone who does it deserves praise just for exposing themselves to public scrutiny and forcing the incumbents to defend their records, as opposed to coasting through an election unopposed.


Having said that, however, let's look at some statements that have been made. Before this campaign got underway, I wrote that this should be one race in which the candidates don't try to whip up envy over the salaries paid to teachers and other education professionals.

And yet, despite that, we've already had one county commissioner candidate characterize the superintendent of schools' $105,000 salary as "outrageous." Another who said that teachers, who haven't had a raise in several years, really don't need a large one because the cost of living is cheaper here than in other parts of the country.

My thoughts: Given that the superintendent supervises thousands of people in an enterprise that uses more than 75 percent of our local tax dollars, should we pay him the minimum wage? And given the fact that our teachers can move to another jurisdiction by driving 15 minutes, should we pay less and chase the best ones across county or state lines?

But rather than beating on the people who made such statements, let me suggest that the people who are likely to do the best job for the county are those who've taken the trouble to do research on topics of vital interest.

That means looking at last year's budget and seeking out county staffers for information about what the numbers mean, and how their operations work.

To find out who's done that already, a few weeks ago I called some top local officials to see which of the candidates - announced or otherwise - had made contact.

At that point, Sheriff Charles Mades said he'd heard from Sue Tuckwell, the former Potomac Edison executive, and Albino Trujillo, a local correctional officer, who'd asked him about issues like deputy pay and turnover. Mades said he'd be glad to talk any candidate to provide correct information.

Debra Bastian, the county's finance chief, said Tuckwell had called her to go over the county budget.

"She's the only one who's really come around," Bastian said.

Donna Messina, public relations director for the county school system, said Dr. Herman Bartlett, the superintendent, has talked to many people, but couldn't say whether those he spoke to are interested citizens or potential candidates.

Face-to-face meetings are good, but there are other sources for candidates who want to become knowledgeable. They include:

- The recently revitalized League of Women Voters chapter here is in the process of updating the 1991 version of their "Know Your County" handbook, according to member Judy Levine. Levine says the book will cover the "mission, function and accomplishments" of different agencies.

"We're trying to put all of this on the (World Wide) Web as well, and we're looking for corporate sponsors for that," Levine said. If you're interested in helping, write the local chapter at P.O. Box 2126, Hagerstown, Md., 21742. Or you can visit the league's web sites. The e-mail address for the state site is To access the local site, the address is

- The county government and school system web sites. The county's web site address is Once in the site, go into "Antietam Access" and click onto "Washington County." The school board's web site address is

I've accessed all the sites, and while there's some useful background information, you'd really want more than general stuff if you were running for office.

Like what? That's where you come in, dear readers. Write a letter of 100 words or less, telling us what sort of "homework" a candidate for county office should do. If I pick yours as the best, I'll give you two tickets to Basket Bingo, a fund-raising event for the Parent-Child Center, a non-profit agency in downtown Hagerstown that teaches parents how to raise their children without resorting to mental or physical abuse.

On April 3 at 6 p.m., the Hagerstown Eagles Club at 18 N. Locust St. will host a bingo game in which all the prizes will be Longaberger collectible baskets. I'll also give the winner two chances on a $200 basket that will be raffled off during the evening.

Send letters to Editorial Contest, c/o Bob Maginnis, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, Md., 21740. The deadline is Wednesday, March 4.

If you'd like to go to this event, but don't want to write a letter, call me at (301) 733-5131, ext. 7622, between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. and I'll get you a ticket for $10. Other people are selling them, but only The Herald-Mail editorial page editor (that's me) will kick in a free $2 raffle ticket with the first five tickets I sell.

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