New city group pushed by council member

July 28, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Matt Ward, an outspoken member of the Charles Town City Council who has pushed to revitalize the downtown area and redevelop old commercial areas in the city, has proposed the formation of a new organization of city residents that will formulate its own agenda about the most important issues in town.

Ward's idea drew criticism from one city council member who said Ward is "completely out of order."

In an eight-page letter Ward distributed to at least 150 people, Ward said the Charles Town Rising Suns group will meet at least on a quarterly basis and will be made up of people from other community organizations such as the Charles Town-Ranson Merchants Association, the Jefferson County NAACP and the Jefferson County Sports Alliance.

Ward said in the letter that it will be up to members of the Charles Town Rising Suns to determine what type of agenda they want for the town, but he offered some possible suggestions:

  • Continuing to push for redevelopment of an old commercial area along North Street

  • Cleaning up dilapidated properties in town

  • Expanding the city's parks

  • Extending the downtown revitalization project along East Washington Street

Ward said the organization takes its name from the "Rising Sun Tavern," which was operated by Charles Town founder Charles Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., in the 1700s.

Washington, brother of George Washington, and others often gathered at the tavern to discuss how to improve their communities, Ward said.

Ward said in a telephone interview that he is not starting the organization because he is concerned about newly elected council members changing the direction of town government.

Ward said he got the idea to start the group because there is "so much energy and so many ideas" among city residents, but no outlet for the ideas.

Ward's attempt to form the organization drew a heated response from at least one of the new council members.

Don Clendening, who questioned the wisdom of redeveloping old commercial areas in the North Street area, said Ward is starting the organization because he can't accept the results of the May 26 city election in which Clendening, Mayor Peggy Smith and council members Amy Schmitt and Sandra Slusher McDonald were elected.

Clendening said Ward is acting "like a spoiled child who didn't get his way. Who's he trying to buffalo?"

Smith, Clendening, Schmitt and McDonald ran on a slate that promoted economic growth.

Much of the money donated to Smith and the three new council members came from people associated with the development community, Smith has said previously.

Ward has cautioned against allowing developers to rapidly change the town's landscape and quality of life.

"If we let developers call the tune, it could change our quality of life forever with traffic jams, overcrowded schools, tax hikes and changes to our landscape and historic resources," Ward said in the letter explaining the creation of the Charles Town Rising Suns.

In his letter about the Charles Town Rising Suns, Ward mentions the people who won council seats in the city election.

"We congratulate them. These folks truly care about Charles Town and its betterment. They have many good ideas and we should support them in their efforts for Charles Town. We hope and trust that, now that the election is over, these folks are interested in working with all of their colleagues and neighbors," Ward wrote.

Ward said the Charles Town Rising Suns will have "captains" in each neighborhood and the organization will seek representation from all neighborhoods so the organization can be attentive to everyone's needs.

Ward said he wants the group to produce a newsletter and to consider establishing a Web site, as well as a phone tree to organize neighbors.

Ward said he also wants to have a "council patrol" - a group of city residents attending and observing council meetings.

That also drew criticism from Clendening, who said he sees the council patrol as a group that would "judge everything we do. I just think he's completely out of order," Clendening said.

Smith, Schmitt and McDonald could not be reached for comment.

Of the more than 150 letters he sent to people encouraging them to join Charles Town Rising Suns, Ward said about 50 have agreed to join.

Ward said the first meeting of the Charles Town Rising Suns will be Aug. 11 at 7 p.m., although a location has not been finalized.

Ward said he would like to see Smith address the group at one of its meetings.

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