Local program offers a look at community

March 21, 2004|by JAKE WOMER

On a recent Friday, I had a chance to sit down with Washington County Circuit Judge Frederick Wright III, Washington County State's Attorney M. Kenneth Long Jr. and Assistant Washington County State's Attorney Joseph Michael.

The three joined an agent of the Washington County Narcotics Task Force in a panel discussion with the 17th class of Leadership Hagerstown. The 31-member group - myself included - listened to the insiders' view of judicial, legal and law enforcement issues in the area. The panel offered candid comments to our questions.

The discussion kicked off a day during which the class learned about local government from some of the people who are running it. The day ended with Hagerstown City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman and Washington County Administrator Rodney Shoop engaged in another question-and-answer session with the class.

All of these people found time to talk with us partly because Leadership Hagerstown has established a tradition of assembling 30 or so people each year who work to improve their community. More than 300 people have gone through the program.


The Herald-Mail Co. and other businesses traditionally have a Leadership Hagerstown representative each year. As someone relatively new to Hagerstown, it's a bonus to meet the people who have worked in the city, county and state for years.

Each class is selected from a list of nominees from professional areas as diverse as business, government, education, the arts and community groups. Individuals may nominate themselves or can be recommended by someone else.

One objective of Leadership Hagerstown is, as the name implies, to develop and enhance community leadership. Participants can gain knowledge and awareness of the problems, opportunities and issues facing Hagerstown. The information and contacts prepare class members to be active in the community.

From September through May, the class meets monthly with Leadership Hagerstown Director Vincent "Woody" Spong to focus on different aspects of the community.

In February, the class went to Annapolis to check out the state capitol. The Washington County Delegation met with the class following a session of the Maryland House of Delegates.

January's daylong meeting focused on health and human services. Washington County Health System President and CEO James Hamill spoke about the need for a new hospital and controversial plans to build it beside Robinwood Medical Center. Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel, Dave Engle from the county's Department of Social Services and Community Free Clinic Executive Director Christina Rudden also spoke to the group.

Past meetings have focused on business and economic development, education and a tour of Washington County. The days have been informative.

I have my own opinions about the runway expansion project at Hagerstown Regional Airport, the location of Washington County Hospital and the development of downtown, but I don't have the benefit of the years of detailed history that have led to some of these decisions. The people that have talked to Leadership Hagerstown have unique perspectives, and it's edifying to be part of a forum where they share those.

Jake Womer is Lifestyle editor of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2340, or by e-mail at

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