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Candidates talk issues at forum

April 30, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

HALFWAY - For one evening at least, Willie Mays was benched.

But while nobody raised a question about the recent controversy over renaming Memorial Boulevard for the baseball legend, nearly every other issue involving the City of Hagerstown surfaced in some form Friday night during a forum for mayoral and city council candidates at Hagerstown Community College's Valley Mall Center.

The municipal election is May 17.

Students in HCC professor Spring Ward's state and local government class conducted the forum. Candidates fielded questions written both by the students and by audience members. For most questions, no more than two candidates answered.

No particular theme emerged during the forum, though several candidates cited growth as the city's primary concern - and the Republican slate made a number of references to its "team" approach to city business, prompting a question about whether individual members would always vote with the slate. The answer, from mayoral challenger Richard F. Trump, was ... maybe not.

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Incumbent Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire, a Democrat, read several of his answers from prepared statements.

Political newcomer Alesia Parson, also a Democrat, noted that "looking in from the outside," she couldn't answer specific questions about the city's budget or the impact of rising property tax assessments and that she would "need a learning curve" once elected to make decisions in those areas.

Answering a question about whether term limits should be imposed on elected city officials, Trump said they should not - although he only planned to run for one term.

"I would not run again and make decisions (based on) being re-elected," he said.

Democrat Kelly S. Cromer, an attorney, presented herself as a "fresh face in a sea of incumbents trying to keep their seats and a slate of Republicans trying to buy their seats."

Incumbent Democrats Lewis C. Metzner, Penny May Nigh and Aleshire revealed what they believed were the greatest "public misconceptions" about them.

"Everyone thinks that I'm mean," Nigh said.

"Everybody thinks I talk too much," Metzner said.

Aleshire lamented the number of letters he receives that are addressed to "Miss Aleshire."

Of the 12 official candidates for mayor or council, and one write-in candidate for mayor, the only hopeful not present was city council candidate Haru Carter Jr.

Republicans Ruth Anne Callaham and Scott D. Hesse were asked about their impressions of media coverage of City Hall. Callaham suggested that local news outlets had not sufficiently reported information on the city's fiscal 2006 budget proposal, noting that it calls for a new information technology position that she said was being financed by the increase in tax assessments. The media are "not reporting that real clearly," she said.

The Herald-Mail reported on the request for that position on April 2, and on the city's intention to hold the tax rate steady despite higher assessments on April 1 and again on April 25.

Hesse said he had mixed feelings about media coverage.

"It seems to me that they feel stuck in this role that they have to cover everybody," and therefore don't always cover individual events, he said.

Republican council candidate Dan G. Kennedy, the quietest of the candidates Friday night, said that rather than having the current "two-plus-two" committee of two council members and two Washington County Commissioners meeting regularly to iron out city-county relations, "probably our approach would be better served to get the entire groups together and figure out what we have in common."

Managing residential growth while maintaining affordable housing within the city commanded much of the discussion. Republican council candidate Torrence "Tory" M. VanReenen said one answer for people who cannot afford to purchase homes was to recruit businesses that provide "jobs with the income level to let (residents) afford" to own homes.

Mayor William M. Breichner predicted that the recently approved legislation authorizing increases in the county's excise tax on new development would be "very important to continuing to allow growth to occur - we need to make developers pay their fair share."

"The issue is control," Metzner added, saying the city's sewer was overburdened and that Washington County Hospital's proposed move to a site behind Robinwood Medical Center, which Metzner has opposed from the start, would make matters worse.

On the hospital issue, Breichner and former Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II displayed a divergence of opinion. Bruchey noted that he believed the city was right to "do due diligence" in researching the project, though he thought the city spent too much on the fight. But ultimately, he noted, "the Maryland Health Care Commission will make the decision. And if it does move to Robinwood, it's the city's responsibility to help make that happen."

For his part, Breichner said he would like to "help the hospital survey the site on King Street and Antietam for its new hospital."

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