Find Hagerstown's best landlord

February 07, 2002

Find Hagerstown's best landlord

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

Regular readers of this column are probably aware of my strong feeling that it's essential that the City of Hagerstown enact a rental inspection program to encourage landlords to improve their properties and thus boost the city's tax base.

Unfortunately - and unwisely, I feel - the council has chosen an incremental approach that will ultimately fail, but not before another two years have passed and the problem with fleabag properties has gotten worse.

Writing about the idea, and the success other Maryland cities have had with rental inspection - including Cumberland, for goodness sake! - hasn't moved council off its go-slow stance, so I decided something else might be needed.


Maybe, I thought, it would be a good idea to hold one of my periodic letter-writing contests and have contestants describe the worst apartment in Hagerstown. If 250 people wrote in, I felt it might spur the council to put this effort into first gear, or at least take off the emergency brake.

But then I began to wonder. What if, in their zeal to win a cash prize, people started vandalizing their apartments to make them more prize-worthy? And so instead I'm taking a co-worker's advice and offering a $25 prize to the writer (or their favorite charity). To win, describe, in 100 words or less, the best landlord in the city. If there are no entries, or just a couple, that will say something too.

Send your entries to Best Landlord Contest, c/o Editorial Page Editor, The Herald-Mail,. P.O. Box 439, Hagerstown, Md., 21740. Deadline is Feb. 22.

Not long ago The Herald-Mail's Editorial Page Advisory Committee suggested that, in order to encourage understanding between people of different backgrounds, that I should write a column or two about people who've recently immigrated here from other countries. I didn't get any suggestions when I first asked for names, but still feel it's a good idea. Send names to the above address or call me at (301) 733-5131, ext. 7622. You can call after hours; the Voicemail is on all night.

In the aftermath of Washington County's school redistricting effort, in which the School Board divided Hagerstown-area children and their schools into the haves and the have-nots, I went looking for some research about what happens when you mix children of different economic backgrounds.

Thanks to my colleague Tim Rowland, I found a Jan. 28 Chicago Tribune article by Evan Osnos, who reported on a number of school systems that are experimenting with mixing children according to economic background, rather than by race.

The article cited a 1999 study of 60,000 Minnesota students which found that needy students who attended affluent schools showed "markedly higher" scores than those who stayed in less affluent schools.

And according to several studies cited by Osnos' article, the influx of low-income students didn't affect overall performance, as long as the majority of a school's students were from middle-income families.

But studies alone won't eliminate the opposition to economic desegregation, as author Jonathan Kozol noted in his early 1990s book, "Savage Inequalities."

In the book, Kozol talks about disparities between schools that are only a few miles apart, disparities that exist because parents nationwide push for public schools that are segregated by parents' incomes.

In the December 1992 edition of Educational Leadership magazine, Kozol compares the situation to a fully outfitted Little League team playing against one whose players have no mitts.

I shared this with a local woman who's interested in this problem, who said she'd been aware of Kozol's work, but had expected better of Washington County. Fooled us, didn't they?

J. Michael Nye no longer lives within the Hagerstown city limits, so he probably should have been ushered off the city's Public Safety Board. But I strongly doubt his address is why council wouldn't invite him back.

Nye, interim executive director of CRS, has a bad habit of telling unpleasant truths and not going away when he gets a baloney response.

On June 19 of last year, Nye went before the city council to express concern that the draft of the county's comprehensive plan didn't address many important issues, like how to deal with a shrinking pool of volunteers and the need for cooperation between courts, police and government to cut overtime costs and give police more time on the street.

As opposed to local government's usual Micawber-like approach of hoping that something will turn up to solve these problems, Nye asked that government start planning for the future now.

Did council fail reappoint him because they didn't want to seem to be taking sides in Nye's quest for CRS help from the county government? Perhaps; the decision was made in a closed meeting. Reasonable people can differ on appointments, to be sure, but it would be unreasonable and irresponsible to ignore the issues Nye raised.

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

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