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Bob Maginnis 8/27/00

August 25, 2000

State lawmakers advise Hagerstown: Decide soon on priorities for 2001



Hagerstown Mayor Bob Bruchey didn't make any points with Washington County's General Assembly delegation last April when he asked those lawmakers who attended a post-legislative forum why they came back with only half the money sought for local projects.

Unlike previous officials, who usually expressed such disappointments in private, Bruchey was very public about how unhappy he was, even asking to address the audience at one point.

That request was denied, which may be a good thing for the city, since quicker than anyone anticipated, the 2001 session is on the horizon. And unlike the shopper unhappy with his local grocery store, Bruchey and the city are not free to shop elsewhere for the tax dollars they want for everything they didn't get last year- the Civil War museum, for example - and the latest city proposals, like the Arts and Entertainment District and a $4.4 million parking and open space plan for the new University Systems of Maryland campus set for downtown.

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To find out whether there's been any quiet diplomacy or behind-the-scenes fence-mending on the city's part, I talked to some local delegation members this week. Apparently no olive branch has been forthcoming from His Honor, but none of the state lawmakers was talking about paying back the mayor for his impudence, either

What lawmakers did say, however, is that the city (and those promoting various projects) must develop a priority list. Decide what you want us to fight hardest for, they say, because we're not going to get everything.

State Sen. Don Munson, R-Washington, said his personal relationships with other public officials are secondary to serving his constituents, and citizens' wishes are what will guide his actions in Annapolis.

"If it's good for them and they want it, that's what it's about. I'm not going to let my personal piques get in the way of that, because I just believe that's where it's at," Munson said.

Del. Chris Shank, who defended his performance in April, said that "I'm not one to hold grudges, because we all have to work together."

And, said Shank, rocky relationships between elected officials have existed "well before I was elected" and can be handled as long as the differences are not personal, but over matters of policy.

To try to handle those matters better in the 2001 session, Shank said that Del. Bob McKee, R-Washington, the delegation's chairman, will be asking the city to prioritize its wish list.

"In other words, don't just give us a list and say, 'We want it all,' " Shank said.

On the matter of relationships between the governing bodies, Shank noted that his district doesn't include the City of Hagerstown, but said he's tried to maintain a friendly relationship with the city.

In return, Shank said, "I'd like to see more responsiveness, more sensitivity toward my constituents" on projects like the Triad group's Mt. Aetna Road development and the Wal-Mart Super-Store proposed on the edge of Funkstown.

"I have my constituents and the mayor has his constituents. I'm more than happy to help the city when I can. He just needs to be more considerate of the county," Shank said.

McKee said he had told two members of the city council who attended a stadium task force meeting in June that he wanted a priority list.

Soon, he said, he'll send a formal request to the mayor for that list, and will also ask "who has their fingers in each of the projects."

Last year, McKee said, there was some back-door lobbying going on for one of the projects that the delegation should have been aware of, but wasn't.

The list is necessary, McKee said, because, "Even if we were the Montgomery County delegation, we couldn't get all of these things funded. We need to know what is most important to them."

Del. Sue Hecht, D-Washington/Frederick, echoed the call for the city to prioritize its wish list, and to realize that some of the projects like the Civil War Museum aren't going to move ahead without money from the private sector or a funding source other than state government.

"The people locally have to do their work first," Shank said, "and you have to come up with some up-front money."

On all the projects, Hecht said, "You're going to have to prioritize. We have to sit down and strategize this thing, and a lot of work has to go into it."

And said Hecht, "You have to be realistic. You can't achieve everything, even in five years."

Hecht said she personally believes that the downtown campus should be the top priority, but added that, unfortunately, some elected officials are still "whining" about the downtown location. That's got to stop, Hecht said, because Gov. Parris Glendening has picked the site to be a model for his "Smart Growth" program and isn't going to reconsider now.

If local officials feel they need extra parking and green space to make the campus work, Hecht said, they need to "show (Glendening) what the need is and ask for it. I don't know how viable it is, but they've got to get the governor's staff the information as soon as possible."

I couldn't reach all the delegation members, but Munson, McKee, Shank and Hecht seem to be saying that they're not going to punish the city for the mayor's criticisms. At the same time, however, they're also asking the city to be realistic, and not expect to get everything on the wish list.

Like Hecht, I believe that the downtown campus is the top priority, but it will be interesting to see which project the city chooses for their No. 2 slot, and whose feelings get hurt in the process.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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