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Exchanges get more heated at City Hall

October 29, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - A meeting at Hagerstown City Hall on Tuesday in which officials already were on edge apparently became even more testy between two of the participants once the meeting ended.

What is clear is that there was a short, contentious discussion between City Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh and Edward Lough, a co-founder of a group that is supporting Washington County Hospital's bid to move out of downtown, and the conversation ended abruptly.

It is not clear if Nigh shoved Lough, as Lough recalled Thursday. But whether or not it happened, Mayor William M. Breichner has apologized to Lough for Nigh's alleged behavior.

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"I don't know exactly what it was. ... I heard various rumors, and said I just felt sorry that that happened. ... I did not see it," Breichner said Thursday.

The City Council held three sessions Tuesday, an unusually heavy day that began with a closed session on negotiation strategy with Washington County Hospital and ended with its monthly voting session.

In between those sessions, the city held a meeting with the Hagerstown-Washington County Community Healthcare Coalition, a group that announced itself in July and is working to sway public opinion in favor of the hospital's plans to move to a site near Robinwood Medical Center.

While the two groups have been critical of each other, the meeting had been cast as a session between city officials and the coalition's co-founders - Lough, James Latimer and Charles Shindle - to get a better understanding of each other's positions.

There were several heated exchanges during the 90-minute meeting, including one point at which Nigh raised her voice and told the coalition representatives, "You all have nauseated me to no end."

The meeting broke at about 6:40 p.m., and people who had attended the meeting - city officials, coalition members and audience members - began shaking hands, chatting and preparing for the voting session.

Lough said he was speaking with City Finance Director Alfred Martin in the council's meeting room when Nigh approached. He said he told Nigh, "Thank you for your time" and said that he wanted her to know the context of the meeting wasn't to be taken personally.

According to Lough, Nigh then said that it was personal, "and you're no good for the city, and you've never done anything for the city."

Then, Lough said, Nigh "blew by me and shoved me out of the way." He said she did not use her hands in the shoving action.

Lough said the shove was hard enough that "I'm sure if I'd have done that to her, I'd be in handcuffs before I got out of the building."

Nigh said she does not recall pushing Lough, and if she did, it was not intentional. She said her mind was also on a family medical matter, and "I don't know if I did or if I didn't."

"I really cannot remember to be quite truthful with you. If (Lough) says that I did, I guess I did," Nigh said. "He was blocking me. I was making my way around him. He put his hand out, and I said 'No, thank you.' I have the right to do that."

Martin said he was still nearby during the exchange, but "I don't recall seeing" any contact between the two.

Ted Bodnar, a Hagerstown resident who also attended the meeting, said he was maybe 20 feet away from Nigh and Lough's exchange.

"I couldn't hear anything, but I saw Ed Lough say something," then Nigh responded, "and I just saw her push past him. ... It was not hitting, it was just pushing by," Bodnar said.

"It wasn't like she went after him," Bodnar said, but "I would have called it forceful."

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