County 'roosters' strut

HHA chief talks

December 04, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

A few years back I got a call from a gentlemen who lives in the southern part of Washington County. He was having a problem with the design of a construction project the county was doing near his property, and not getting any satisfaction from the official in charge.

As we talked, he seemed more annoyed by the official's attitude than anything else. Finally I asked him whether this was about the project, or about whose will was going to prevail.

The project, he said with a chuckle, but added that he knew what I was talking about.

Years before, he said, when he'd worked in an office, occasionally some of the workers would get into a heated dispute about how a project should be done. After a while, he said, the boss would intervene and ask them the following question:

"Is this about the work, or is this a rooster contest?"


I remembered that after I read Tuesday's story about Washington County suing Hagerstown over a sewer agreement. The suit was filed just before the new board of commissioners took office, in what seems like a stunning no-confidence vote in the new members elected Nov. 5.

The suit might be defensible if the county board had sought outside help - a mediator of some sort - when it became clear the two governments were deadlocked.

But rather than admit that they couldn't do it on their own, the three commmissioners now leaving and the two who remain have chosen to go to court instead.

So make no mistake, this is a rooster contest. And you, dear taxpayers, will be paying the costs, which won't be chicken feed.

Ted Shankle said when he got a call saying that a Washington Post reporter wanted to ask about the Hope VI project that will replace Hagerstown's Westview public housing project, he was eager to talk.

Hagerstown is one of the few small cities that have qualified for such a grant, Shankle said, and as head of the Hagerstown Housing Authority, he wanted to tell how Hope VI would replace aging units and give more people a chance to become homeowners.

But when the story came out, it was less about Hope VI and more about how needy families being priced out of Montgomery County were finding homes in Hagerstown's projects, apparently with Shankle's blessing.

Many readers were irritated by Shankle's final quote, in which he said, "I think we have enough public housing and Section 8 to absorb whatever population comes over the mountain in the future. We're set for the next 15 years."

After I quoted a Herald-Mail editorial advisory board member who said the article illustrated the disconnect between government agencies, Shankle said he'd like to set the record straight on a few points:

- As for the alleged "disconnect," Shankle said that during Hope VI planning, HHA worked with the school system to plan for the relocation of students and with a variety of local agencies to design a recreation center for the West End.

- The only time HHA advertised outside the area for tenants was 5 1/2 years ago, when the waiting list dropped below 50 and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development suggested it. After city officials protested, the ad was dropped and never repeated. If anyone can find an HHA ad that's run out of the area since then, Shankle said he'll pay a $1,000 reward out of his own pocket.

- HHA is not attracting criminals to Hagerstown, because those with criminal records are ineligible for units. And while security and local police officiers haven't eliminated drug dealing, dealers have been chased off the streets so children can't see them.

- Any family arriving from out of town will not increase the school population, because HHA is not adding new units and the Hope VI project will actually reduce the number of units in favor of new duplexes that will be owner-occupied.

He did say that if someone from outside the area applies and meets the requirements and preferences, "it is our job to provide the housing if they apply."

That opportunity to be a homeowner was the opportunity he was talking about, Shankle said, which the quote used did not accurately reflect. Ironically, he said, the reporter offered to let him read the story before it ran, but he didn't do so.

Post reporter Mary Otto said she stands by her quotes and said she did offer to read Shankle's quotes back to him, which is standard journalistic practice.

Shankle is probably right when he says that in-migration to local public housing from the metro areas won't be a problem in the near future because the waiting list is way up and local people have preference.

That doesn't change the reality that as people are priced out of the metro areas, they'll go where they can afford to go. And if anybody hasn't heard that it's Hagerstown, they soon will.

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

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