The danger in not getting involved

March 03, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Does Del. John Donoghue do enough for the City of Hagerstown?

I ask the question because after Hagerstown Councilman Kristin Aleshire criticized Donoghue in a council work session for not attending a couple of public events, I commented on it in my column of Feb. 3.

I'd give Donoghue a pass on all those chicken dinners, ribbon cuttings and the like, I said, if he'd provide some leadership on issues like the continuing battle between the Hagerstown and Washington County governments.

Why Donoghue and not other delegation members? Because Donoghue's legislative district (2C) is basically the City of Hagerstown and Donoghue is a former city councilman. If the city is going to have any delegation member as an ally, it should be Donoghue.


Donoghue, in Annapolis for the 2004 session, left me a Voicemail message saying my criticism was unfair, that he's done a lot for the city.

Was I wrong? To find out, I contacted the elected city officials who are just now finishing their third year in office. I asked them what Del. Donoghue had done for them, either in the way of personal advice or help for city projects in the last three years.

"I'd probably have to go back further than that," said Councilwoman Carol Moller, who said that Donoghue had been very supportive of the many efforts to reorganize and revitalize downtown.

Citing the fact that Donoghue's wife works full time and that the delegate is devoted to his children, Moller said that "as far as John is concerned, he cares and he does what he can do."

Councilman Lew Metzner, who said he'd grown up with Donoghue and has much respect for him said he had "no doubt that Del. Donoghue has done a lot of things on behalf of the city."

But Metzner said communication between Donoghue and city officials could be better. The city could use some help on some vital issues, Metz-ner said, like the second downtown parking deck and the ongoing dispute between city and county government.

"The delegate could do wonders for us with the county. We are in desperate need of a sit-down session with the county, not for an hour, not a feel-good session, but a meeting of however long it takes to get some of these issues ironed out."

Metzner said he was referring to issues like annexation and the fact that the city gets no fair share of the hotel/motel or transfer taxes.

Councilman Linn Hendershot said that Donoghue appears to want to do the right thing, but on issues like the excise tax, has not followed through.

As the delegation's only Democrat in a legislature dominated by that party, Donoghue needs to be a more forceful advocate of the city's concerns, he said.

Councilwoman Penny Nigh said that she hasn't asked for Donoghue's help on many issues, but on things like her attempt to shut down an East End tavern, Donoghue responded with information on applicable state laws.

Ironically, it was Aleshire who offered the most specific praise for Donoghue, saying that the delegate has pushed for a prescription drug program that helps many of the city's elderly and for a new gym for Girls Inc., in the city's West End.

On the issues Metzner cited, Aleshire said other delegation members have taken positions favoring the county government's position, because they represent the more rural parts of the county.

The city needs help for its side, Aleshire said, complaining that the delegation's call for a task force to study the possible consolidation of city and county sewer systems came with no notice to city officials.

In an e-mail reply, Donoghue said that on the task force issue, he has made it clear to his colleagues "that I wanted the city protected and well represented."

But Donoghue said that "as far as leadership on squabbles between the city and the county, I don't feel that my job is to be referee or disciplinarian. I answer to the same voters that they do and they do their jobs as they see fit."

It's not my job, he said, to be "heavy handed and authoritarian."

Donoghue said his door is always open to city officials and noted he's helped when asked, as in July 2003 when he wrote Aleshire a recommendation for a National League of Cities fellowship.

From his e-mail, Donoghue seems to view the ongoing fight between city and county officials as a playground scuffle which he may consider unfortunate, but which he's not going to intervene in.

Someone had better get involved, because the battle over annexation, which many assumed would be settled in court, is not settled at all. On lands outside the so-called joint service area, the city is still free to demand annexation in return for sewer service.

In May 2003, the council agreed to exempt the $28 million Lenox distribution center in Hunters Green from that requirement. Given that the city government desperately needs new tax revenue, would the council do the same in the future?

Hoping it will never happen is not an acceptable strategy and the damage done to this area's image if such a dispute cost the area jobs would be immeasurable.

This is not just a battle between two organizations that have nothing to do with the rest of us, but a struggle vital to the county's future. If Donoghue doesn't want to get involved, it's time for someone else to step up to the plate.

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