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Campus coordinator, Part 2

August 18, 2003

Hagerstown Mayor Bill Breichner said last week that designating one employee as project coordinator for the new downtown campus of the University System of Maryland is a "luxury" the city can't afford.

It all depends on what your definition of "luxury" is. For a motorcycle rider, a helmet may be a luxury - until there's a an accident. Then the luxury suddenly becomes a life-saving necessity.

For a homeowner, insurance may be a luxury - until there's a fire or someone slips on the front steps. Then the luxury of insurance becomes the difference between being wiped out financially by fire or a devastating lawsuit.

What we are saying is that like the unhelmeted motorcycle rider and the uninsured homeowner, the city government may well complete the university project with no problems, even with no project coordinator. But we feel that doing without that position is an unacceptable risk for a project as important as this one.

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As Greater Hagerstown Committee Chairman Bill Barton said, "We think the focus of the city ought to be on doing everything it can to make the project become a reality."

What the mayor is now calling a "luxury" was once precisely what the city planned to do. Breichner said that when John Budesky was hired, the plan was to have him serve as campus project coordinator. But Breichner said that Budesky's talents were needed to address other areas, including labor negotiations.

One of those other areas was as interim head of the city water department, a duty that's now been completed. And Budesky is only one member of a three-member city labor negotiation team, which is supplemented with the consulting services of a Bethesda, Md., attorney engaged in June 2002 at the rate of $215 per hour.

There are two things the city can't afford right now. One is an expensive fight with the Washington County Hospital over its planned move. The other is to treat the university campus as a done deal.

Done deals have a way of coming undone in Annapolis. To prevent that, the city needs someone to lobby lawmakers now, before the 2004 session begins, to keep this vital project in the budget.

Further, the city's coordinator needs to monitor other city officials' campus-related work, make sure that all the details are handled properly and deliver a weekly report to the mayor and council.

As we said, this project might be completed without doing all of that. But this campus is not a luxury, it's a necessity. And anything less than an all-out effort to see it successfully completed is not acceptable.

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