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It's up to Trump to make the peace

July 24, 2005|By Bob Maginnis

To anyone tempted to find amusement in the current squabble between Hagerstown Mayor Dick Trump and some members of the City Council, I say this: Don't succumb, or you may find that the joke is on you.

It is tempting, however, to chuckle as the sole survivor of the ill-fated slate stumbles in the early going, as council members zing him for not consulting them about a letter sent to the state requesting for an additional sewer allocation for the Washington County's proposed new site at Robinwood.

Trump, who pledged he would listen to all points of view and work to bring people together, apparently talked to Councilman Lew Metzner before he sent the letter, but not to any other member.

Then the mayor learned what staff people who work for elected officials find out pretty quick - that politicians don't like surprises.

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One sure way for a government staffer to get his tail chewed is to have his political bosses read something in the newspaper that they were unaware of. Being in the public eye, elected officials take pains not to look stupid or uninformed.

And they also tend to believe that people who embarrass them in this way are not just stupid, but have another agenda in mind, such as making them look weak or irrelevant.

In such situations, I have seen department heads deny they ever gave the interview in question. That wasn't because they expected anyone to believe that denial, but because they needed to humiliate themselves as penance for their error.

As of this makes for great soap-opera-type action, but the dirty little secret is that when elected officials aren't getting along, they're wasting your tax dollars.

Every moment spent on squabbling is time not available to work on the problems facing local citizens. For example, with property values soaring, how will the next generation of local folks be able to buy homes? Where will the area get new jobs paying more that minimum wage? When they're fighting, nothing is being done to deal with such issues.

In the 1970s, I watched as a previous council and a former board of Washington County Commissioners squabbled over how the two governments would provide sewer service to Fountain Head, where many septic systems were failing.

After the squabble had gone on for years, the late Ken Mackley, then counsel to the now-defunct Washington County Sanitary Commission, urged me to look into what the delay had cost the area.

Using a formula from a magazine called Engineering-News Record, we found that while the two governments fought, the cost of the project had grown by $9 million, big bucks for that time.

In the 1980s, when Mayor Donald Frush and his council fought over Frush's managerial style, the result was a prolonged battle over the mayor's powers in the city charter. Afterward, Frush was never the same and the good ideas he had - tax credits for renovation, for example - didn't survive for long after he left office.

If you agree that we don't want to go down that road again, what's the solution?

It's up to Trump to make peace. Not consulting all council members on the sewer letter was a mistake. An apology by the mayor might sting, but not as much as wasting months dealing with the council's anger and suspicion.

His former slate mates ought to encourage him to do this, as opposed to telling him that the people he's tangling with are in the wrong. Even if they are, this is the hand the voters dealt him.

It's up to him to play it, by listening to councilmembers, by not surprising them as he just did and by realizing that no elected leader gets everything he or she wants.

As every good manager knows, if you insist on everything being done your way, you will stifle others' creativity. And in this case, since Hagerstown has a "weak mayor" form of government, if Trump insists on his way all the time, he may find, as Frush did, that he will only succeed in uniting the council against him.

If February, Trump said that he saw the mayor's job as being "the cheerleader and the spokesman for the city. ... You understand the issues, you build the relationships and ... (help) people achieve their goals."

A month earlier, in a letter to the editor, Trump lamented what he saw as the poor relations among the mayor and council in office at that time.

Speaking of his fellow candidates on the slate, Trump said, "We may not always agree, but we know that after a disagreement, we will continue to honor and respect each other for our perspectives.

As we watch the current mayor and council interact, we do not believe that there exists a sense of open-mindedness or a sense of cooperation."

It would be a shame if Trump and the current council became what he pledged to avoid. Mending this fractured relationship is up to them, but shame on any citizen on either side who urges elected officials to continue this fight just for their own selfish amusement.

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