Around county, commissioners race is hot topic

July 12, 1998|By LAURA ERNDE

When chatting with a local radio talk show host recently, Charlie Messmer joked that he was probably one of the few guests who wasn't a candidate for elected office.

With 29 people running for five seats on the Washington County Commission - the largest slate since 1974 - it's gearing up to be an active political season.

"Politics are alive and well in Washington County and I think that's a good thing," said Messmer, 41, who lives in the North End of Hagerstown and runs a jail substance abuse program for prisoners.

Stiff competition is healthy in the race to the November election, said Messmer, attending a family reunion at Halfway Park on Saturday.


All over the county Saturday, many people are taking an interest and have already formed opinions about the race among 14 Democrats, 14 Republicans and one independent.

One of their biggest concerns is the $53 million water and sewer debt.

"I think what woke a lot of people up is this sewer issue," said Mike Whittington, 38, of Greenberry Hills in Halfway.

Mike and Kelly Whittington watched their neighbors' rates skyrocket while they were spared because they are on Hagerstown's system.

"Really, in the long run, it's going to affect us. People may be leery of buying a house in the South End," he said while fishing with his family in Williamsport.

Brenda Hart, 45, who lives on nearby Marbern Road, said with a grimace that her sewer bill has nearly tripled.

John Canfield, 62, of Cearfoss, credited the crisis with bringing out so many candidates.

"I can't think of any other reason there'd be so many," said Canfield, who was attending a family reunion at Halfway Park.

But voters said they have other concerns, too.

The area needs someone to bring in higher-paying jobs and scholarships for children who are truly in need, said Hart, who was signing up youth for the Junior Football League at Halfway Park.

Hart is looking for someone who is "business-oriented, but also someone who is down-to-earth" to make decisions for her.

A big issue for the Whittingtons is special education for their daughter Katie, 12, said Kelly Whittington, whose father, the late Keller Nigh, served as vice president of the County Commissioners.


"I don't think that they're doing their job," said Cathy Frank, 34, of Greenberry Hills near Hagerstown.

Frank said elected officials take up too many special-interest causes, such as restoring the Hagerstown roundhouse and building an ice rink.

Meanwhile, her son is going to summer school so he can go into second grade this fall.

"Take it to the schools. They need the education so they can go out and become something," said Frank, who was biking along the C&O Canal.

Tyler Newcomer, 23, of Mulberry Avenue in Hagerstown, agreed that education is important. He teaches at Lincolnshire Elementary School.

Martha Sanderson, 56, of Boonsboro, who tutors children, said fixing the problems pointed out in a curriculum audit of the Washington County Schools should take priority over things such as a new baseball stadium.

"I'm interested in change," she said while picnicking at Devil's Backbone County Park. "I don't think they're always in tune with the needs of the people. The people are saying one thing and the votes are reflecting something else."

On the issue of a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, Elmer Beckley, 57, of the West End of Hagerstown, said he is decidedly against the idea.

His wife, Phyllis Beckley, however, is a baseball fan and didn't necessarily agree when the commissioners denied support for a stadium.

"I think so many people have been upset with the County Commissioners," said Phyllis Beckley, who was attending a church picnic at Halfway Park.

A few people said they regret that Commissioner James R. Wade isn't running for re-election.

"I liked the way he did his job. He more or less said it the way it is," John Canfield said.

Likewise, Charles Hesler, 36, of Garis Shop Road near Hagerstown, said he thought Wade dealt fairly with the water and sewer issue.

The other commissioners, however, he blamed for creating the crisis.

"The citizens are not up to speed on holding them accountable," said Hesler, who called for a two-term limit for commissioners.

New faces

Jeff Kline, 33, of Oak Ridge Drive near Hagerstown, will also be looking for some new faces in county government.

"I think we need some new commissioners, so I'll probably vote for some of the new ones," said Kline, who has a home-building business.

The county needs to bring in more businesses instead of running them out with more regulations, he said.

Jim Pryor, 54, of Clear Spring, said with a high number of candidates he is looking forward to an interesting election.

"It'll give us something to pick from," he said.

But some people won't be following the election.

Chris Taney, 41, of Boonsboro, said he is fed up with the finger-pointing of politics.

"Part of human nature is to look for a scapegoat, whether it's the president, the congressman or the guy next door. We just look for someone to ... moan about," he said. "There's not going to be a political solution to make us happy."

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