Once again, a veil of secrecyclouds public's right to know

June 15, 2004

On March 5, Smithsburg Emergency Medical Services was summoned to the home of 20-year-old Christina Hess, who was pregnant and in medical distress. Hess and her unborn child later died.

Hess had been a volunteer with the Smithsburg Fire Department, which has a history of friction with the town's ambulance company.

A month after her death, Smithsburg Fire Chief Ron Jeter filed a complaint in connection with the incident, a complaint which led to disciplinary action against one male ambulance squad volunteer.

Joseph Kroboth, director of the county's Department of Emergency Services, said that the complaint was not filed against those who provided treatment at the scene. Instead, he said, it came because of events "surrounding the incident."


So what actually happened? Kroboth won't say, nor will Jeter or the family of the deceased. County Attorney Richard Douglas denied a Herald-Mail request for the name of the person disciplined, or for a description of what led to that disciplinary action.

Does any of this sound familiar? Citizens' right to know has been denied, again, even though their tax dollars pay both Kroboth and Douglas.

And surprise, surprise, the denial came from the same county attorney who restricted access to information about how much severance pay the county gave John Howard, its former economic development director.

That was bad enough, but that situation didn't involve medical matters or public safety.

If, in connection with a serious medical incident, someone did something inappropriate and unprofessional, the public ought to know about it - particularly if the person who was disciplined is still a member of the ambulance company.

In his April 26 letter to Jeter, Kroboth suggests that work still needs to be done to improve the sometimes prickly relationship between the town's fire company and its ambulance squad.

Who can argue with that? If friction between the two companies was the cause of this incident, we strongly suggest the ambulance company step up to the plate, admit what happened and dismiss the volunteer.

Those who let personalities get in the way of fire/rescue work need to find something else to do.

The future of transportation

If you're one those folks who believes that there are already too many vehicles on Eastern Boulevard, W.Va. 9 and Interstate 81, consider this:

In the next 25 years, another 150,000 are expected to live in the Tri-State area, and about 79,000 of those people will hold jobs here. That's a lot of trips to and from work and to the supermarket and soccer practice.

How will the region handle the transportation needs of that influx of people? Nobody's certain, but if you've got an idea, you can share it at one of three public meetings to be held this week, each at 7 p.m.

Tonight there will be one at James Rumsey Technical Center near Martinsburg, W.Va. On Wednesday, there will be a session at the Jefferson High School Ninth Grade School in Shenandoah Junction, W.Va.

The third meeting will be in downtown Hagerstown at the Frostburg State University community room.

Items to be discussed will include the pace of work on the W.Va. 9 upgrade, bypasses of Martinsburg, Charles Town and Ranson and the widening of the Maryland portion of Interstate 81.

We hope some of those discussions include adding things like mass transit and combination bikeways/walkways as options to the transportation mix.

Assuming that gasoline will always be as abundant as it is now would be a foolish long-range strategy. Providing transportation alternatives would reduce road congestion and airborne emissions as well.

Planners might also explore programs like the one the City of Hagerstown has begun, in which those who agree to live downtown near where they work or attend school are eligible for a rental subsidy or help with a down payment or closing costs on a home.

Can West Virginia and Maryland work together on some of these strategies? Yes, even if it's only by sharing their research and the good ideas citizens offer. If you can help by passing along an insight, please attend one of these meetings and do so.

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