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Washington county needs a majority of new leaders

October 28, 1998

The new Board of Commissioners that will lead Washington County into the 21st Century faces a full plate of challenges, some new, some leftover from a decade of leaders who have chosen policies of reaction over strong directives.

Certainly there is something to be said for governments that govern least, but there reaches a point and a time where initiative, creativity and energy are called for and we believe this to be one of those times in the history of the county.

A word about the current Board: These past four years have not been easy ones in which to govern because of the $56 million sewer crisis. Agreed, four of the sitting commissioners had a hand in creating that crisis, but they should be awarded some credit and respect for bearing up under substantial public abuse and planning a solution which is functional, if imperfect.

The board has had some successes, most notably its participation in Washington County's charitable gambling law reform andprogress in the redevelopment of Ft. Ritchie.

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But on balance, this board has failed to distinguish itself. For years, fire and rescue policy reform has been a top priority. For years nothing has happened. Reshaping the tourism department fell to city and state leaders when the county failed to act. The county has had no good ideas to help with stadium or Roundhouse projects, while at the same time funding an ag center complex of questionable merit.

Cozy relations with an investment company that arranged a trip to the Masters golf tournament; lousy relations with other local governments; arrest of a black man for protesting the county's hiring practices; allegations of nepotism; failure to attract high-paying jobs; lying to the public about how "revenues are meeting expenses" in the sewer department - the dismal list goes on.

Voters who elect for a "clean sweep" of the office can feel fully justified. Our preferred list is as follows:

Bert Iseminger - Iseminger, a Hagerstown Independent is arguably the pick of the field. Chairman of the Washington County Planning Commission, Iseminger, 49, has good ideas about managing sewers through a joint city-county authority, a full commitment to education and controlling growth by channeling it where roads and utilities already exist, with an eye toward preserving farmland and historic sites. His stance on the stadium is one of common sense - assign the project a spot on a county priority list and help out only when other, more pressing needs are met.

John Schnebly - The 48-year-old Funkstown Democrat is a former member of the Hagerstown City Council and would bring a solid record of government experience and success to the board. Schnebly's plan for higher paying jobs lies in smart, energetic people who would help aggressively promote and market the county. His idea that educational standards should drive school funding, not the other way around, is sound. Schnebly has proven business success and a track record of community service, most recently as a leader in the REBS group working for promotion of South High.

William Wivell - An accountant at Allegheny Power, Wivell, 34, would bring a needed and watchful eye to county finances. The Republican is a political newcomer, but still has shown himself at public forums to be impressively informed about the workings of government. He wants to more energetically promote the county for business and work with state lawmakers for a more friendly state business environment. Wivell is disinclined to support funding for a stadium, but accurately notes the county can be involved in the project and be supportive of it without major financial obligations.

Paul Swartz - The former school administrator wins points for pushing sewer solutions which do not involve dipping into the county's general fund. Swartz, 60, a Democrat, understands the interrelationships of good jobs, recreation and entertainment in the quality-of-life circle. He is proud of his support for a new baseball stadium, a refreshingly candid view on an issue many politicians would rather duck. Swartz is well-known for his good will, and would be an asset in dealing with counterparts in city, school and state legislative governments.

Ron Bowers - This nine-lives Democrat has more of his fingerprints over the county's sewer crisis than any other sitting commissioner. If you are voting a "straight sewer" ticket you will wish to find an alternative. But Bowers, 55, has enough strong points to warrant consideration. He has connections to state government, which are helpful when the county needs money or help with a project. Bowers is dubious of the county's top administrators (the ones who make silly arrests and go on golf junkets) and would vote for their removal. He is responsive to constituents and, a rarity in Washington County, is not afraid to put his name on the line when he believes people or policies are deserving of criticism.

For those who prefer a clean sweep but worry about continuity, we would ease those concerns by saying that enough of the above candidates have sufficient experience in public policy to enable a smooth transition. And finally, we can see little in the way of past policies that are worthy of continuation. As the year 2000 approaches, the time is right in Washington County for new blood.

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