Reader reactions an inexact science

July 30, 1998

Bob MaginnisFour or five years ago, The Herald-Mail published a letter from an inmate incarcerated in the state prison complex south of Hagerstown. I'm the next great pop music composer, he wrote, and if I only had a guitar to work out some of my tunes, I could prove it to the world.

At the time, I fully expected readers to reply with words like these: "If you had stayed on the right side of the law, you could have bought yourself that guitar with honest work."

Readers surprised me, however, and began to show up at The Herald-Mail with guitars. We collected six in all, in various states of disrepair. So much for my intuition.

It was in a similar spirit that we published a letter from a Clear Spring woman this week, who was offended when the owner of Hagerstown's Barnwood Books asked her to control her 4 1/2-year-old autistic child while he was in the store. A reasonable request, it seemed to me, and I expected that in the give-and-take of debate on this page, other readers would make that point better than I could.


Instead, however, I've gotten calls from people who seem to feel that by publishing the letter, I am somehow agreeing with the woman's complaint. Not true, any more than I agree with some of the other letters we publish.

I feel sorry for any parent who must deal with autism, but to announce to a shopkeeper that your child is autistic and expect him or her to make special accommodations for the child's behavior, including risking a lawsuit if a boisterous child injures himself, seems a bit much.

Readers who find that comment heartless and insensitive should be assured that letters expressing that point of view will receive expedited treatment, as do all letters critical of Herald-Mail news stories and commentaries.

Last week's announcement of a new reader contest describing close encounters with crazy drivers hasn't produced a single entry, which leaves three possibilities - either all the nutty drivers are targeting me with their idiotic behavior, people are afraid of retaliation if they share their horror stories, or they meant to share, but didn't get around to it.

Well, here's another chance. We're extending the deadline for this contest to Thursday, August 6. To win the $20 prize, tell me, in 100 words of less, about your encounter with a rude or crazy motorist. Don't identify your tormentor by name or license number, but do send your tale to Crazy Driver Contest, Editorial Page, The Herald-Mail, P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md., 21741.

In the search for ways to sort out the 29 candidates running for Washington County Commissioner, we recently listed a number of candidate forums, the first of which will be run by the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County. Inc. at 7 p.m. on August 5 at the W.D. Byron VFW Post at 70 E. Washington County.

If you need a list of the others, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Forum Schedule. Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail., P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md., 21741.

The latest additions to the list come from:

- the Washington County Republican Club, which is holding a forum for GOP candidates for county commissioner and Republican Central Committee on Tuesday, August 18 at 7:30 p.m. in room C-11 at Hagerstown Community College. It's free and open to the public.

- WHAG 1410 AM Newstalk Radio, which will spend two weeks between August 31 and Sept. 11 interviewing candidates. According to talk show host Will Kauffman, each weekday afternoon between 4:05 and 5 p.m., three commissioner candidates will be interviewed.

That's just 20 minutes for each candidate, but it's more than they're likely to get in one stretch in any of the other candidate forums. As short as that time period is, it should be apparent who's struggling to fill the time, and who has more to say than they could possibly express in just 20 minutes.

And finally, does it seem to anyone else that during all the hoop-de-doo over Washington County's sewer debt in the last few years, the county's delegation to the General Assembly hasn't done much to help?

No, the delegation didn't cause the problem, but so far delegation members seemed to have confined their input to telling the commissioners what's not possible, like forgiveness of $10 million in state debt.

Okay, we know that the state government isn't likely to hand Washington County millions to pay down the debt, or even forgive what the area owes. But what we need is some input on what is possible, which the delegation might obtain by asking the state bureaucracy to help.

As I've said for several years now, I can't believe Washington County is the only government that ever got itself in trouble in this way. It's time for delegation members to do some research and propose some solutions of their own.

Bob Maginnis is editor of The Herald-Mail's Opinion page.

The Herald-Mail Articles