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Penny Nigh and Section 8

July 27, 2003

It would be easy to write an editorial criticizing Hagerstown Councilwoman Penny Nigh for the comment she made Tuesday night disparaging city residents who participate in the Section 8 rental subsidy program.

It would be easy, but we're not going to do it, for reasons we'll soon explain.

In case you missed it, Nigh, responding to a city resident's complaints about crime, said that "all Section 8 people are not bad, but three-fourths of them are."

Those who rent through the Section 8 program get federal assistance with their rent through the Hagerstown Authority, providing they meet certain income and family-size guidelines.

Nigh has expressed negative opinions about Section 8 renters previously, but Tuesday night comments were more critical by far.

While we could criticize her as insensitive, given that 22 percent are elderly residents on Social Security and more than 20 percent are disabled, we won't, because that would obscure the real issue.

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We believe that elected officials have an obligation to provide solutions to the problems they point out.

Are there too many low-income renters in the city? If so, then how can Hagerstown encourage more people to buy and convert those properties to owner-occupied dwellings? The Greater Hagerstown Committee has proposed one plan, but there may be others worth getting behind.

Is there too much crime in the downtown area? If so, then how can the council beef up police patrols or complete the central booking facility Chief Arthur Smith says will put officers back on the street more quickly after an arrest?

Perhaps Nigh is working on all of these problems. But if so, we would urge her to use her moment in the council chamber's spotlight to advocate solutions instead of just pointing her finger at problems.

Pointing a finger is part of an elected official's job, no doubt. But the other part is to study possible solutions and develop public support for the best ones. We await Councilwoman Nigh's proposals for progress with great interest.

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