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Most council members say they want water/sewer talks public

July 03, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A majority of Hagerstown City Council members, polled Wednesday, said they want discussions of two water-sewer disputes that are the center of two lawsuits Washington County has filed against the city to be open to the public.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner on Wednesday said he is frustrated that his attempts to have the council discuss the matter in open session have been unsuccessful.

Metzner, a Hagerstown lawyer, said the city has legal justification to discuss the issues in executive session - one that is closed to the public - because of pending litigation.

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The Washington County Commissioners have filed lawsuits against the city over a flow transfer agreement and an annexation policy.

Despite that, he said, the issues relate to government policy and should be discussed openly.

"Those things are not appropriate to discuss in executive session," he said.

Council members Kristin Alehsire, Penny May Nigh and Carol N. Moller said Wednesday they agree with Metzner and want future discussions to be in public session.

But Councilman N. Linn Hendershot, who is on a city-county committee negotiating the issue, said his position is that the issues should be negotiated in executive session until agreements are reached. After that, he said, they can be approved and discussed publicly.

The city, during a committee meeting, promised the county that the negotiations would remain private until an agreement was reached, he said.

Hendershot and Mayor William M. Breichner said the county tentatively is scheduled to discuss the issues, and possibly to vote on agreements to resolve them, in public session next Tuesday.

Metzner is the only one who has pushed repeatedly for the issue to be discussed publicly, Breichner said.

Metzner disagreed, saying a majority of council members asked at a June meeting for the issue to be discussed in public.

Hendershot said the one time he heard the council agree to move the issue to public session it was on the condition that be done only if negotiations were at an impasse. That is not the case, he said.

In response, Metzner said, "I find it very acceptable that various people have various recollections of what happened. In no way am I implying anyone is not telling the truth."

The fact that people have different memories of events is one argument for talking about the matter in open session, at which the discussions are taped, he said.

During past executive sessions, as well as in a letter to the editor, Metzner said he thought he made it clear that he felt all future discussions about the dispute should be included on a meeting agenda and discussed publicly because it relates to government policy.

Instead, the issue was listed on the agenda for executive session discussion at this week's meeting.

At Breichner's suggestion, the matter was tabled.

Commissioner William J. Wivell, who had been invited to the meeting by the mayor to attend the executive session on the water-sewer issues, expressed frustration that the discussion was not held.

Metzner said he was unaware that Wivell was present.

Breichner said he believes the city can resolve the legal issues with the county faster and more effectively in closed session than in open session.

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