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Council Forum

April 28, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

Candidates for Hagerstown City Council took the stage at a Thursday morning forum at the Sheraton Four Points, the first of several forums scheduled before the May 17 general election.

About 75 local business and government leaders attended Thursday's forum, which was organized by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce.

Eight of the 10 City Council candidates attended. They were incumbents Kristin B. Aleshire and Lewis C. Metzner, both Democrats; Ruth Anne Callaham, the Rev. Haru Carter Jr., Scott D. Hesse, Dan G. Kennedy, and Torrence "Tory" M. VanReenen, all Republicans; and Alesia D. Parson, a Democrat.

Democrat incumbent Penny M. Nigh and Democrat Kelly S. Cromer did not attend the forum.

Each candidate was given one minute for an opening statement. After that, the moderator pulled a random question from an envelope and asked that question to two candidates. Each candidate had the opportunity to answer five separate questions, and there were a total of 20 questions asked by the moderator.

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The forum lasted 75 minutes.

The questions revolved around what to do with increased revenues from increased property assessments, long-range priorities for the city, how should the city revitalize city neighborhoods, city-county issues, health care and increasing citizen and business input into administrative processes.

The candidates gave the following answers:

Aleshire


What role does the city have in revitalizing neighborhoods beyond the core of downtown?

The city's Neighborhoods First program "is a very key role in getting the neighborhoods themselves energized ... to want revitalization to occur." The city also needs to help neighborhoods get over stigmas.

Why should noncity residents of Washington County care about what happens in Hagerstown?

"The city provides numerous services outside city limits," including water and sewer service. A recent review of the rates charged to water and sewer customers "will have an effect on people that live outside city limits." Annexation and downtown development also have an effect, and "we need to make sure that we keep growth in the ... downtown by not pushing it outward."

How would you develop a single point of contact for citizens and businesses wanting to access city services?

It's difficult, but the Internet would be the best way for citizens to learn about meetings, groups they can join and download forms. Although getting people to come to meetings is important, "getting people to show up to these things is what we need to do."

What role should annexation play in the city's growth and viability?

He said the city's position in regard to annexation has improved from one in which the city was begging to annex land in the previous administration to now being able address citizen concerns. Had the policies currently in place been in place 30 years ago, "We'd be the second-largest city in the state."

You are bringing a visitor to downtown Hagerstown: What do you boast about?

Hidden open space and recreational areas, as well as architecture and the possibilities available in the city.

Callaham


What funding strategy would you use to finance your vision of revitalization?

She would "bring all types of people together," including businesses and developers, "people that are willing to take a risk." She also advocated for tax-incentive financing. "You use your bankers, you use your neighborhoods, you use your volunteers. ... Because we love this city, it will happen."

How would you encourage more citizens' input into the city's decision-making process?

She said she would change the city meeting agenda to move citizen comments to the beginning of the meeting instead of hearing them at the end, and said she would regularly go to nonofficial functions such as neighborhood meetings and sporting events. "There's all kinds of ways to hear people."

What more can the city do to help the business community, especially the small business community?

She called for a greater emphasis on grants, low-interest loans and government funds as well as an overall sharing of knowledge between for-profit and nonprofit communities.

What would you propose to reduce the flow of inappropriate commercial traffic through downtown Hagerstown?

Rerouting traffic is not preferable, especially for state roads like U.S. 40 because, she said she believes, the city could lose money from the state in maintaining roads.

Discuss the importance of parks and green space in the overall urban plan.

Parks and green space improve the environment, city quality of life and encourage families and enhance economic development.

Carter


What is your top priority for Hagerstown for the next five years and 10 years?

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