City, hospital officials come ready to rumble

October 30, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

My feet were up, the chips were on the coffee table and with the surround sound cranked up I was happily sucking on grape soda and onion soup mix in anticipation of the big event.

Don't you love it when a heavyweight grudge match is televised? I had my scorecard out to judge the winner of each round.

The Hagerstown City Council is in the habit of televising its meetings on a cable access channel for some reason, so on Monday the cameras were on when council members put on the gloves to go up against board members of the Washington County Hospital to discuss the hospital's proposed move outside the city proper to Robinwood.

Best I was able to determine, the city's position can be summed up in two points:

1. The city supports the idea of a new hospital 100 percent.

2. No it doesn't.

Meanwhile, the hospital's position can also be summed up in two points:


1. We honestly care how the City of Hagerstown feels about the relocation and want to find a solution agreeable to both parties.

2. No we don't.

This was going to be good. The first thing you noticed was that no one in the room - no one - looked as if they wanted to be there. Everyone wore a terribly pained expression, much like Elizabeth Schulze might have if forced to sit through a yodeling contest.

At the opening bell, Mayor "Stone Cold" Bill Breichner got into it with hospital CEO Jim "The Syringe" Hamill over a technicality in the agenda.

Hadn't even gotten to the issues yet and they're already sniping at each other like they'd been married going on 40 years.

Early on, the hospital got in some good body blows, asking the city what other business looking to expand to the tune of almost $200 million had ever had its finances scrutinized so heavily by City Hall.

But then the city, behind on points, rallied with a furious flurry of jabs. Councilwoman Carol Moller got the hospital to admit that some of the floors in the existing hospital are currently empty.

The hospital's weak response was that those floors didn't have enough bathrooms to allow for expansion. Oh please, like that's a problem? Just call in Betty Morgan.

Then in the sixth round, Councilman Linn Hendershot landed a left hook that forced the hospital to take a standing eight count. For years, he said, you've flown that stupid (my word) banner over Antietam Street bragging about being one of the top 100 hospitals in the country. If your hospital is that good, what do you need a new one for? Hamill covered up, saying it's the employees, not the building, that won the honor.

Well, OK. So lets ask the employees if they want a new, $200 million hospital, or a $200 million raise.

But leading six rounds to five on my card, it all went bad for the city in the 12th. First, Councilwoman Penny Nigh let loose with a roundhouse right and whiffed. "I don't want to be argumentative, so I'll just keep my mouth shut," she said when it was her turn to speak.

Oh Penny, how could you? I have to eat, you know, give me something I can use.

Already off balance, the city walked into a stunning uppercut from Hamill, which knocked loose the city's mouthpiece and immediately dropped it to the canvas.

Basically, Hamill said that if the city had put half the scrutiny into the First Urban Fiber operation that it's putting into the hospital, it wouldn't have wound up with such a mint-green-elephant on its hands.

Oh, MAN. I was on my feet, roaring with the crowd as the city struggled to get off the mat. Imagine my distress when, just as I was getting my first sight of blood, hospital board member Wayne "I'm Not in Politics Because I Make Too Much Sense" Alter stepped in and stopped the fight.

He politely pointed out that a lot of the same people who serve the hospital wanted the University System of Maryland campus outside the city, but when the decision was made to put it downtown they all "got behind it 100 percent" for the betterment of the community.

Rats. That seemed to defuse things. They went on to talk about working together, which is clearly something I don't want to see. Although as long as they spend their time talking about working together instead of actually working together my interests may be safe.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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