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An 'apology' that wasn't

December 12, 2002

Washington County Circuit Judge Fred Wright has apparently had second thoughts about the timing of his statement urging the County Commissioners to govern in the spirit of cooperation instead of blame.

Unfortunately, some members of the county board now seem to have concluded that the judge is sorry he said anything at all. If so, they're mistaking his good manners for a lack of conviction.

On Dec. 3, a day after the outgoing board of commissioners filed a $2.5 million sewer-policy suit against the City of Hagerstown, the new board was sworn in. Immediately afterward, the judge noted that although Washington County's population is 10th largest in the state, its juvenile and civil court caseload is seventh in the state.

Judge Wright said that Washington County is a "self-gratifying" and a "blame someone else, take you to court" county. Perhaps the tone of local leadership and their relationships with each other affects citizens' attitudes, he said.

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The statement was a shock because no community leaders - or average citizens, for that matter - have even suggested it's a bad idea for one government to take the other to court, even though taxpayers will certainly pay both sides' legal bills.

But this past Tuesday, the judge told the new county board he didn't mean for his statement to overshadow their swearing-in ceremony. Some board members took that as an apology, though Judge Wright denied it was intended that way.

"I guess we all hear things differently," said Commissioner William Wivell.

Certainly no one wants to be scolded like a schoolchild caught in a playground scuffle. But this dispute isn't much more complicated than that, because the framework of a settlement has already been worked out by Hagerstown Councilman Kris Aleshire and now ex-Commissioner Bert Iseminger.

The two sides now are in the same position that the Washington County hospital and its trauma doctors were in several months ago. The basis for a settlement is there, but neither side trusts the other and neither wants to be the first to yield.

Court action, as opposed to mediation, will only increase the animosity between the two, not to mention the costs to taxpayers.

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