Budesky: Will Hatch Act end his run?

February 28, 2001

Budesky: Will Hatch Act end his run?

As I write this, Democrat John Budesky is still waiting to hear whether he can be a candidate for the Hagerstown City Council. The director of the Washington County Partnership for Children and Families, a county agency, Budesky may have to withdraw because of the Hatch Act, which prohibits those employees paid with federal money, or who oversee the spending of federal dollars, from being candidates in partisan elections.

If that happens, it would be unfortunate, because Budesky is the sort of new blood the city race needs. And if his record with his own agency is any indication, he would challenge the conventional wisdom about how things should be done.

For whoever is elected, it will not be an easy four years. Property tax revenues - the city's primary source of operating cash - continue to be flat at a time when more funds are being sought by fire/rescue agencies and, probably in the next year, by the police department as well.


It is not a prospect that scares Budesky, who for two and a half years has headed an agency that has as part of its mission the elimination of duplication by non-profit agencies.

For years, Budesky said, some of the agencies he works with "wouldn't even talk to each other."

Now, because they're required to, they file joint grant applications and partner together, working under what Budesky calls a "compromised consensus."

Under such a system, Budesky said, when a program has outlived it usefulness, like some of welfare-to-work programs, it can be transformed into something different, in this case a program to give people who've already gotten jobs some advanced training.

As a member of the council, Budesky said his first job would be to convince city leaders to set some priorities.

If you were setting them, what would they be?

"I think if we're looking at the city, we have to look at the downtown, the hub of the city," Budesky said, adding that there's got to be a compromise between the preservationists and those who want to tear down and rebuild.

He noted that Marc Silverman, the developer who wants to put a new office building on the site of the old Tri-State building (among others) on South Potomac Street, is restrained somewhat because no agreement has yet been reached.

Doing that is important, Budesky said, because when the Baldwin House complex on Washington Street is renovated as the site of a new University Systems of Maryland campus, that will draw other businesses to the area.

"If you create an inviting environment in one building, then other businesses are going to want to be near that," Budesky said.

To enhance that, Budesky said the UM programs cannot just be offered in the evenings. There needs to be a day program as well, he said.

How will you enhance city revenues?

"I'm sure everyone would mention annexation, but if we're annexing, we have to look at who's being affected by it," he said, to make surel there aren't adverse effects.

Other possibilities include encouraging businesses to locate in vacant spaces in the city's business parks and in existing vacant buildings in the city.

There's another part to the spending issue, Budesky said, and that's making sure that city residents know that every spending decision the council makes is a responsible one.

That may be tough, Budesky said, because a lot of people don't attend public meetings and don't hear the debate and the detail on spending issues.

Somehow, he said, city residents need to be informed about what the city has accomplished and told that their city has a highly-skilled work force.

"Many people, without that kind of knowledge, still believe that government spends $20,000 on a toilet seat," he said.

Getting citizens involved and informed would also enhance the operations of the city police, Budesky said. If citizens begin to think of the city as something in which they have a stake, they won't tolerate some of the drug activity that goes on now and will work to shut it down.

At the same time, Budesky said, the council has to work to change the perception that Hagerstown, which does have some crime problems, is a drug-infested city.

"I definitely don't believe that's a reality," he said.

Can you work with anyone who's elected?

"That's a risk you take when you're running, but I think that different personalities may better serve the people than five alike personalities because they'll bring different kinds of expertise to the table," he said.

What about the ward system? Should it return?

No Budesky said, because he believes every member of the council should serve the entire city. To that end, he believes he has an edge.

Because of his work with many non-profit agencies, he said, "I know this city inside and out on a social level," including which neighborhoods face what particular sort of challenges. Couple that with his experience in getting people to work together in new ways and Budesky feels he can help the city move forward.

If there's one thing city voters should acknowledge as the primary draws near is that, on many issues, the old ways of doing things no longer work.

In Budesky, the city has a candidate who's experienced in getting groups that don't get along to work together in ways they hadn't imagined would work. Unless, of course, the people interpreting the Hatch Act pull the plug on his candidacy.

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

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