Council needs fresh air

April 06, 1999

Hagerstown Councilman J. Wallace McClure is one of the most imaginative and committed people we've seen in city government in recent years. His "Pride and Groom" program to clean up the city's streets is just what the municipality needed, as was his call to young members of Hagerstown's black community to make their own history by running for elected office. McClure has also pushed the owners of rundown property to clean it up, and sought ideas on how other municipalities work by subscribing to their newspapers.

As we said, he's a committed city official with lots of imagination, all of which makes it that much more difficult to understand his stand on the secret meetings the council held to cut the city budget this year. Budget-cutting meetings traditionally take place during open session after the administrator presents council with a budget. But because of a projected $1.1 million deficit in the city's general fund, the mayor and council meet in secret eight times between Jan. 1 and March 31 to help City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman balance the budget.


McClure says the public didn't miss anything by not having the hearings open, because:

"If they had been open to the public, we would have heard from everyone, and it would have taken forever."

Two questions:

- Isn't "everyone," particularly everyone who pays city taxes, entitled to their opinion on how the city spends their tax dollars?

- Assuming that 100 people did show up, and a hearing took several hours, would that be a bad thing?

No, it would not. The city government is asking citizens to get involved by cleaning up the streets, providing input on projects like the Hagerstown Fairgrounds and by joining neighborhood associations. If that sort of input is good, how can citizen input at budget hearings be bad?

In a May 1997 letter to the editor, McCLure said he hoped to be "the breath of fresh air to a city council that is starting to stagnate." We strongly suggest that if the city government doesn't want its relationships with citizens to stagnate, it will allow some fresh air (and some fresh opinions from citizens) to blow into its budget debates next year.

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