Issues can't take a back seat

April 18, 2005|by John Schnebly

It's election season in Hagerstown. Several weeks ago we had the mayor and council primary elections. Soon the city's general election will follow in May.

Judging from events so far, we're off to a rocky start. Unfortunately, we seem to be infected with the same political malaise that now often affects our national elections.

On the one hand, we've had one candidate's supporters circulate a picture of his opponent with a certain unpopular former governor. No matter that the photo involved a very positive development for the community, the location of the University System of Maryland campus in downtown Hagerstown.

In retaliation, perhaps, the aggrieved party shortly thereafter made some unkind remarks about the other candidate's speech disability on his campaign Web site.


Sadly, this type of behavior makes one question whether the candidates are really focused on the issues. As these two individuals have introduced the politics of factual distortion and personal attack into the recent campaign, attention on the election dialogue has suffered. This type of behavior simply fosters cynicism about the political process, and to quote legendary radio personality Don Imus, "we just don't need this."

What we do need is some sober thought and comment on a couple of key concerns. We need to get off the dime with regard to a new hospital. We've batted this issue around for too long.

The political and economic scales seem to be tipping toward relocation to the proposed Robinwood site. As precious time goes by, the city's long fought rear-guard action on this question seems less and less like due diligence and more and more like obstructionism. Are any of the current council members rethinking their positions, and what do the other prospective candidates think?

We need thoughtful discussion on the future of the city's sewer utility, especially with regard to its capacity to handle the vigorous growth arriving around us. The city is presently operating its plant under a consent order from the state. This order came about as a result of concerns about the Frederick Street plant's capacity and sewage overflows into Antietam Creek.

The city and county are also dealing with regulations from the Maryland Department of Environment placing absolute limits on the amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus they can discharge into our streams. What are the candidates' thoughts on how we nurture the present capacity and provide for future needs? Under the latest regulations, we have finite ability to provide service and we need to elect officials who understand how to come to grips with this new reality.

As the city election process heads to a conclusion, let's hope we can redirect our focus to these issues and others. The great attribute of local elections in the past was that they were, for the most part, inexpensive, non-partisan, non-personal and transparent. If we can achieve and maintain these standards, we have a good chance of understanding the truth concerning our circumstances and making the proper decisions regarding our future.

John Schnebly is a Hagerstown-area resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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