Muzzling a non-resident and other selected topics

September 15, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

This week I received a couple of e-mails on a topic that's been raised previously: How do I, as a non-resident of the City of Hagerstown, presume to express an opinion on what's best for the municipality?

It reminds me of the questions I used to hear 30 years ago, when I was really a newcomer to Washington County.

The polite folks would say, "So, are you a native of Hagerstown?"

Those who were already displeased with me would say, "You're not really from around here, are you?"

Should I shut up about what I feel is best for Hagerstown, on the premise that only those who live here know what will work?


Let's ask readers. E-mail your comments to, or to Bob Maginnis, c/o The Herald-Mail, 100 Summit Ave., Hagerstown, Md., 21740.

In this past Sunday's paper, Thomas Firey of the CATO Institute disagreed with my praise of Montgomery County's program to mandate affordable housing in each new housing development.

Firey's arguments follow a pattern: Pick a proposal, then do research to show the idea wouldn't work perfectly. And why would anyone want to settle for an imperfect system?

The answer: Because sometimes you have to start with imperfection and build from there.

The Montgomery County program has two virtues: The first is that it's been in place for more than 20 years, so every problem likely to occur already has. It's nice to let someone work out the bugs for you, isn't it?

Reason No. 2 is that it's already faced court challenges, so if the identical ordinance were enacted here, the developers would have to go along.

Just like Hagerstown's rental-registration ordinance, which wasn't nearly as tight as it should have been, the Montgomery County program would be a start and a heckuva lot easier than starting from scratch.

One of the things a few folks have noticed is missing this election year in Washington County is the organization known as Kids Voting.

According to Carolyn Shaw, the former chair of the project, the demise of Kids Voting was a casualty of her retirement from Allegheny Energy and the utility's suspension of all charitable contributions when it began experiencing financial woes.

The program allowed children to visit the polls on election day with their parents and cast their own ballots at special Kids Voting polling places. There was also special school curriculum to get students involved in learning about democracy and making choices.

Some local elementary schools, including Salem Avenue and Maugansville, even had events such as parades to stir pupils' enthusiasm.

I mention this now because the Kids Voting materials are stored at the Allegheny Energy building on the Downsville Pike. If some group or individual wants to take up the program, this would provide a "starter kit" of sorts. Included are 150 Kids Voting polling places that retail for $15 apiece.

They're stored securely for now, according to Guy Fletcher, an Allegheny Power spokesman, but the building is for sale, so contact me soon if you're interested in reviving Kids Voting.

When I was asked to attend a meeting with officials of three West Virginia hospitals that have decided to merge, I went in part because I was curious about one thing: Did the timing of the merger have anything to do with Washington County Hospital's plans for a new facility?

After all, the Robinwood Medical Center is already pretty darned impressive. Did the three hospitals fear more patients would seek care on the Maryland side of the Potomac?

No, said Bruce McClymonds, president of the West Virginia University Hospitals. The patients leaving the Eastern Panhandle for treatment are going east to places like Frederick and south to Winchester, Va.

Speaking of the Washington County Hospital, I asked Del. John Donoghue, Hagerstown's representative to the Maryland General Assembly, whether the delegation would use its clout to push city officials to back the hospital's move to Robinwood.

The hospital and the city are in talks now, Donoghue said, but if there's a need, he said he would get more heavily involved. The hospital's hope is that such intervention won't be needed, but as my mom used to say, we'll see.

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