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Bruchey's 'shut up' and related topics

March 16, 2000

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

It drew loud applause at this week's "state of the city" breakfast, but Hagerstown Mayor Robert Bruchey's suggestion that money for a new University of Maryland campus downtown won't be available unless someone can "shut (state Sen. Don) Munson up" is not helpful, though I can understand the mayor's frustration.

There's no love lost between the two Republicans, even though they share party affiliation, but the university project is too important for there to be anything but unanimity on it. Even the business leaders who don't like the downtown site have agreed that the decision has been made, and it's time for the community to pull together and make the project work.

But earlier this month, state Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles, who chairs a subcommittee of the Budget and Taxation Committee (a panel on which Munson sits) proposed that all the sites be studied again, with a report due by Oct. 1, with an estimate of "student demand" for each location.

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Munson backed the study initially, but now says the downtown site is "our only option" and one he's prepared to support fully. Bruchey's fear is that if the county's elected officials tick off the governor, not only will the university project be in jeopardy, but also the funds the city is seeking to plan a Civil War museum downtown.

So what will put these two feuding officials on the same page? It's hard to say, since there's no elder statesman, like, for example, the late Marty Snook, who can get these two to stop working at cross purposes.




The "State of the City" event covered a lot of ground, but didn't touch on what may be the greatest opportunity Hagerstown will have to attract new residents in the next few years.

Why attract new residents? Because except for a few neighborhoods, the city homes that were once owner-occupied have been converted to rentals. Renters don't provide the same stability as owners, because if there's a problem in the neighborhood - drug dealing, for example - renters count the days until the lease is up, then move elsewhere. Owners, unless they can afford to take a bath on their investment, have to stay and fight.

And the opportunity? Late next year, Maryland's MARC commuter rail system will bring passengers to two stations in Frederick - an estimated 1,600 a day by 2005.

Some of these folks will quickly figure out that they can drive another 15 or 20 minutes across South Mountain and cut their housing costs significantly.

Such people would be perfect potential owners of homes in the city's East End. In that area yards are small enough to make upkeep simple, but if residents want to walk or exercise, the city is in the process of turning the old fairgrounds into a recreation area, complete with softball fields and walking trails.

What if the city created a park-and-ride lot at the fairgrounds, then ran a bus to the MARC station? Such a perk might be just what it takes to get would-be homeowners to take a chance on Hagerstown.




It did not go unnoticed that the sixth- and seventh-grade winners of this year's Washington County Spelling Bee were two students from St. Mary's School, or that the eighth-grade winner, 14-year-old Kevin Roberts, has been home-schooled, as he told me, "all my life."

Noting that fact is not to take anything away from the winners, because they certainly lasted longer than I would have with the same words.

But some of the blame for public school students' absence from the winner's circle has to come from the county school system's long involvement with the so-called "whole language" system. The whole-language system encourages students to write without worrying about whether what they write is spelled correctly.

The pendulum has swung back the other way now, and spelling grades have been returned to students' report cards.

Why, in the age of spell-check programs, is spelling important? For me, the ability to spell is an indication of how well-read someone is. If you read a lot, you see and mentally absorb the proper spelling of many words. Poor spellers usually aren't avid readers.




Just before Hagerstown Suns' owner Winston Blenckstone held his press conference to essentially say he was tired of waiting for action on the stadium project, I talked to yet another person who told me that he'd stopped attending Suns' games when their major league affiliation changed from the Baltimore Orioles to the Toronto Blue Jays.

After some questioning, he admitted that no, the Orioles hadn't ever given him a free ticket as a reward for such loyalty, nor are they likely to do so in the future. Given Blenckstone's April 7 deadline for action, and elected officials' confusion over the issue, this year may provide this fan with his last opportunity to demonstrate his loyalty to the O's by absenting himself from Suns' games.




Bob Maginnis is Herald-Mail's editorial page editor.

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