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bob maginnis _ column for 1/2/01

January 31, 2001

The next generation of city leaders



Back in September, when the only non-incumbents expressing interest in running for city office were former councilmen Larry Vaughn and Ira Kauffman and ex-mayor Steve Sager, I wrote a column asking where Hagerstown's next generation of city leaders was.

No offense to these City Hall veterans, I said, but wasn't there someone out there, I asked, with the energy of a Chris Shank, who won the 1998 race for the Washington County's District 2B delegate seat at age 26 by knocking on more than 7,000 doors?

Apparently there is, and his name is Kristin Aleshire. He's a 25-year-old Hagerstown native (South High, Class of '93) who does land-use planning for the Frederick County towns of Middletown and Myersville. During a visit to The Herald-Mail offices last week, he made a strong case for his candidacy, and a surprise pledge as well.

Aleshire said he couldn't understand why at the end of every story on the council race, the newspaper noted that the job pays $8,000 a year.

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I'm not running for the money, he said, but to give back to the community that's given me and my family so much. If elected, he said, he'll split his salary into eight scholarships of $1,000 apiece for use at local institutions of higher learning.

"It's a service I want to give. If they attend school here, maybe they'll stay around for another year," Aleshire said.

It would not be Aleshire's first act of public service. After graduating from Salisbury State College in 1998, he spent a year in the Americorps program, working with students at E. Russell Hicks and Springfield Middle schools who'd been identified as at risk of dropping out.

For him, the surprise was that the at-risk students weren't concentrated in one economic class, but at all levels. One of the program's challenges was getting parents involved, Aleshire said, because the more involved they were, the greater the potential for their child's success.

He values the experience, he said, not only for the contact with the students, but because it all exposed him to a variety of lifestyles around the community. He had been offered a teaching job in Frederick County, but decided on the Americorps program instead. Then came the planning job, where put into practice what he's learned in college about urban planning and urban anthropology.

"You quickly learn the connections the municipalities, county governments and the states have, on everything involved in growth and development," he said, adding that the better the coordination between governments on such matters, the easier it is to reach a consensus.

For example, on the Churchey project on Mt. Aetna Road, where developers are moving forward with plans to put 190-some dwelling units on 37 acres, Aleshire said some compromise and rearrangement of the plans could have done much to calm residents' fears about the proposal.

If the plan had been changed to place single-family units on the perimeter and multi-family units in the development's interior, away from neighbors they might offend, controversy might have been avoided, he said.

The city could have negotiated in favor of such a plan, Aleshire said, because at the beginning of the process, the municipality can lay down any conditions it wants, including a schedule for how quickly or slowly development should proceed.

Right now Aleshire said he's overseeing a plan for a 600-home development which will be built in stages over a period of years.

"Growth has to occur, but it shouldn't occur at the expense of the existing population," he said.

And if anyone doubts Aleshire's ability to work out such compromises because of his age, they shouldn't, he said.

"I've sat in meetings with county commissioners, municipal officials and state officials, and when I go into these meetings, I don't consider myself less than equal. I do get my points across," he said.

He does it, he said, by doing enough research that "I make sure I know more than the person I'm meeting with about whatever subject we're discussing."

Being knowledgeable, he said, "helps provide that respect and productivity that's needed."

Asked if the duties of his job would leave him with enough time to take care of his council duties, Aleshire said he's already attended many city meetings and doesn't see that his planning duties would conflict with his city responsibilities.

He does see a role for himself in the promotion of the interests of the city and the county, which he feels sometimes get lost in the crush of business that comes before the state legislature.

"We don't have a large voice for this county," Aleshire said.

With Mayor Robert Bruchey II pledging to continue expanding the city's tax base through the annexation process, Aleshire's voice and expertise could be valuable, especially if it prevents the sort of development that's done to boost the tax base today, without a lot of thought about how it will affect the community's quality of life tomorrow.

Herald-Mail's candidate endorsements will come later, but for me, Aleshire qualifies as someone who it would be foolish to write off, just because he hasn't been around forever.

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

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