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Mayor's hospital decision irks some on City Council

July 13, 2005|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

HAGERSTOWN

gregs@herald-mail.com

The City of Hagerstown has taken an official step in trying to make way for Washington County Hospital's proposed move, but that step this week drew concerns Tuesday from members of the City Council.

After hearing at a work session that city officials forwarded a letter without prior council approval to the Maryland Department of the Environment asking for an exception to state-imposed restrictions on the city, Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer leveled a complaint that Mayor Richard F. Trump was "doing things behind our back."

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said she felt similarly, and "We need to be ... abreast of what the mayor is in fact doing."

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The letter at the center of the discussion, dated July 7, was from City Water and Sewer Department Manager David Shindle to Robert Summers, director of the Water Management Administration for the Maryland Department of the Environment.

In the letter, Shindle asked for an exception to new restrictions so that the new hospital could be built. The restrictions resulted from continued problems with the city's sewage treatment plant and include a limit on the amount of new connections to the city's sewer system.

Under plans approved last month by a separate state agency - the Maryland Health Care Commission - Washington County Hospital would move from its East Antietam Street home to a new site off Robinwood Drive. The approximate $233 million project would take about 30 months to complete.

While the sewage situation isn't the only sticking point of the moving plans, city officials have said a new hospital cannot be built if the sewer restrictions are not lifted.

The restrictions would place an annual limit of 120,000 gallons per day of new sewer capacity, or the equivalent of about new 600 homes a year.

To make room for the hospital, the city requested 150,000 gallons of additional sewer capacity in the July 7 letter.

After Tuesday's meeting, Shindle said MDE has not yet responded to the request.

Hospital officials and Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who lent his support in the letter, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The letter was handed to the council members Tuesday.

In a verbal report to the council at the beginning of Tuesday's meeting, Trump said he had been speaking with Washington County Hospital officials and asked that Shindle send the letter to MDE as part of efforts to begin moving forward on the hospital issue.

Trump held off comment from the council at the time, calling for order and saying that "we can't run every single thing through you guys. ... You've gotta have trust with each other. You've gotta trust me."

As Trump made those comments, Cromer shook her head from side to side, but waited until scheduled council member comments at the end of the meeting's agenda to make her point.

"You make statements and say that we need to trust you," Cromer said. "Trust is earned."

She said that while Trump said the council had given him approval to move forward with hospital plans, she did not recall that authority having been given.

"That makes it a little difficult for me to trust someone that is doing things behind our back," Cromer said.

Trump said that his work was partly from conversations he'd had with Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, and said he was attempting to put the city in a position where hospital officials couldn't blame the city for slow-downs.

Trump also told Cromer, "I'm sorry that you feel things are being done behind your back," but he said "I resent" the fact that Cromer felt that way.

After the two appeared to agree that Trump shouldn't have said he spoke for the entire council, Nigh went further with her concerns.

"What is happening right here off the start ... is a lot of things that has put a very, very bad taste in my mouth," Nigh said. In addition to the letter to MDE, Nigh said she was disappointed that Trump didn't allow a citizen to read a letter in its entirety during the a recent public comment session last month.

Nigh also took issue with what she called "demeaning" comments from Trump.

"You need to realize that we are not children, and the way that you do at times present those little quirks that you give is very demeaning ... to the council and I don't appreciate it," Nigh said. Trump did not respond.

Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean took a middle position on the matter in her comments toward the meeting's close.

"We all have to be cognizant of each one's feelings" and "remain sensitive," Parson-McBean said. "We should treat each other with ... utmost respect."

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