Shank expects to lead quieter life

November 15, 1998|By SCOTT BUTKI

Something unusual happened at Washington County Commissioner John L. Shank's farm last week: He received only one government-related call the entire weekend.

During the nine years he served as a commissioner, he regularly received at least five or six calls a day. Sometimes he got calls at around 2 a.m. That was annoying, but just part of the job, he said.

Since coming in last in the Nov. 3 election, though, Shank has seen the number of calls taper off. He is using the loss as an opportunity to slow down.

"I am going to live relaxed and enjoy living," said Shank, 66, a Republican.

The new commissioners are to be sworn in Dec. 1.

Shank is retiring from politics and has no plans to seek a commissioners' seat again, he said. He would agree, though, to serve on the Washington County Parks and Recreation Commission and the Agriculture Center Board if formally asked, he said.


Now that he is leaving the commissioners, he will spend more time working on the 266 acres his family farms, which includes his 105-acre family livestock and crop farm off Alternate U.S. 40, south of Funkstown.

While on the commissioners he had to juggle government and farming responsibilities. This often meant changing clothes five times daily as he would return, for example, from a government meeting, work on the farm and then change before going off to another meeting.

Shank said that his knowledge and understanding about agriculture issues led to one of his biggest accomplishments on the commission: reminding the commissioners of the importance of the agriculture community.

"Being a farmer, I was trying to make people more aware of how the farm community's needs compare to city people's needs," he said.

When the county was considering cutting back on soil conservation, he would set them straight on the importance of such programs, he said. And when commissioners would talk about environmental regulations, he would remind them that farmers are the first to feel the effects of those laws, he said.

Shank ran for office in 1982 and 1986 but came in sixth both times, barely missing being elected. That was partially because it was difficult to unseat incumbents in elections when there were no controversial issues, he said.

Then, in March 1989, he was appointed by then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer to fill the seat of Commissioner Martin L. Snook after Snook died of a heart attack.

After being elected in 1990 and re-elected in 1994, he and Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers were swept out of office in the Nov. 3 election.

"People wanted a change. I am just part of the change," he said. "I don't feel too bad about that. That's what you have elections for."

He was slow to decide that he wanted to seek re-election and that probably hurt him in the eyes of some voters, he said. His age also may have played a part, he said.

He thinks that continued resentment over the $53 million water and sewer debt was a major factor.

Shank was not on the board when the costly Conococheague Wastewater Treatment Plant was approved, but he joined the rest of the commissioners in deciding to borrow $16.5 million for the project. Two years later, the commissioners decided to build the Conococheague Industrial Pretreatment Facility.

As part of their response to the problem, the commissioners raised water and sewer rates.

While the eventual handling of the situation was one of his accomplishments as a commissioner, it also resulted in his biggest mistake and regret, Shank said.

In the midst of the controversy, the commissioners received a great deal of personal criticism and attacks. Shank said he always has preferred that citizens stick to the issues. At one point, though, he did not follow his own advice and made some personal comments that he should not have, he said.

He listed several accomplishments as a commissioner:

- He chose good directors for several departments and helped select Rodney L. Shoop as county administrator. He has no real concerns that there are four new commissioners taking office Dec. 1 because they have such good administrators in place, he said.

- He helped reduce the staff size, responding to complaints that the county had too many employees, and particularly too many administrators.

- He successfully fought to reduce the amount of new debt the county adds each year through bonds from about $12 million a year to about $6.5 million, he said.

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