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Schnebly seeks return to office

October 25, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Like the injured quarterback clutching a clipboard, John L. Schnebly has grown tired of sitting on the sidelines of local politics and is anxious to return to the game.

The former Hagerstown City Councilman said he is running for Washington County Commissioner because he feels he can help lead the county as it deals with problems like education and sewer debt.

"I don't feel we've had those leadership skills on the County Commissioners that allowed them to be effective," Schnebly, 48, said recently.

He said one of the main themes of his candidacy has been his qualifications, which include his city experience, his professional experience in the insurance industry, and his involvement on volunteer boards and commissions.

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"I think the strength of my candidacy is I bring a diverse set of experiences to the position," he said.

Schnebly finished fourth in the Democratic primary. He will compete with 10 other candidates - four other Democrats, five Republicans and one Independent - in the Nov. 3 general election.

He isn't predicting the outcome of the general election, but said he received support from many Republicans in the past and anticipates he will do well with those voters again.

Schnebly was elected to the City Council in 1989, where he served until his resignation in 1993. He was forced to resign from his position because he was planning to move his family outside the city limits and into his parents' home near Funkstown, he said.

"That wasn't an easy decision," he said.

But he remained active in political and community matters, volunteering for the United Way and working with Food Resources Inc. He became a leader in the Revitalization of Educational Benefits for South Hagerstown Area Schools (REBS) organization, which led the fight to secure renovation funding for South Hagerstown High School.

"My days of public service did not end just because I got out of elected office," he said.

The father of two children - one a graduate of county schools, the other a current student - Schnebly said he has seen firsthand the problems facing the Washington County Board of Education and how it has prepared students for higher education.

He said he was told by one school administrator that students were not preparing for the Scholastic Assessment test (SAT), the chief college admissions test, until they were sophomores in high school.

"That's the kind of comment that disturbs me," he said.

Poor preparation in the public schools can also hurt families in the wallet, especially if students have to take remedial college courses to catch up with their peers, Schnebly said.

"It's a financial issue as well as an educational issue," he said.

The commissioners' role as the chief financiers of the school system is to increase funding, but only if the school system installs local standards that measure its improvement, he said.

Schnebly said he is pleased to see some of the efforts the school board has undertaken to reform the system, but wants to see if the drive is more than election-year rhetoric.

"What are we going to see the year after the election's over? That's what the real question is," he said.

Good schools will attract good businesses, he said, citing the Research Triangle firms in Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area of North Carolina.

"I just think the reputation of that public school system can do wonders for you. It can be a promotional tool," he said.

New businesses in the county could help use up some of the capacity in the county's debt-laden Water and Sewer Department. But Schnebly said solving a problem as big as the $53 million debt requires many efforts, including greater cooperation between the county and city.

He said the two governments also should look at consolidating some services as a way to improve customer service and cut costs.

Schnebly, who is president of Keller Stonebraker Insurance Group, said his professional experience, which has allowed him to hone skills such as negotiating and establishing credibility with clients, would serve him well in office

"That doesn't mean I always tell people what they want to hear, but I tell them the truth," he said.

Schnebly said returning to public office is a way for him to have a role in other issues with which the county will grapple in the coming years.

"You don't have to sit around on a Sunday afternoon and wonder, 'Why did they do that?'" he said.

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