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Advice to Hagerstown Mayor Trump: It's time to apologize

September 28, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

Has Hagerstown Mayor Richard "Dick" Trump gone too far? According to the current council, he has. In a letter sent to Trump last week, the five council members accused him of failing to follow the "basic rules of procedure, decorum and civility."

The letter said that numerous private meetings have failed to get the mayor to modify his objectionable behavior, including incidents such as asking whether one of them was a "born-again Christian."

In a rambling Friday night interview with The Herald-Mail's Andy Schotz, Trump admitted he had asked Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean about her religious beliefs, but said he ceased when she told him it was none of his business.

Councilman Lewis Metzner told me Friday that for the group, the council work session of Sept. 20 was the final straw. In it, Metzner said, the mayor attacked Councilman Kristin Aleshire personally. And, when Metzner told him the attack was out of order, Trump told Metzner he was out of order.

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I watched a tape of the three-hour meeting and those incidents occupied no more than a few minutes. True, Metzner said this week, but this is something that has been ongoing and which the council has become weary of.

"We're collectively very tired of him putting us down," he said.

Has the council been hostile to Trump? Not really. In my previous conversations with some members, they've alluded to inappropriate comments by Trump, but wouldn't provide details. It seemed as if they were hoping that Trump would "get it" and stop doing such things.

But had the council been hostile, it would have been understandable. Trump was the head of a slate that aimed to knock them out of office. When he woke up the day after the election to find he was the slate's sole survivor, he should have realized that it would take some tactful lobbying on his part to get anything on his agenda accomplished.

That hasn't happened, perhaps because of his business background. As one of my colleagues noted, business leaders are used to giving orders and seeing them carried out quickly.

Politics is more complicated. Personalities play a larger part and sometimes your fellow office-holders go along, not because they're entirely convinced you're right, but because they respect you.

When Trump calls out Aleshire in a public meeting and accuses him of being anti-growth, that's not a gesture of respect.

In addition, when Trump says, as he did Sept. 20, that development should proceed on the assumption that something will happen in the future to solve all of the related problems, he's not going to get the respect of Aleshire, a land-use planner who wants to know how things will work before he says OK.

This situation is not beyond redemption, despite Metzner's proposal to have the city charter reviewed by a blue-ribbon committee headed by three former mayors.

But it is a time for Trump to tread lightly.

Such a panel could recommend, for example, that the council amend the charter to require that the mayor be elected by a plurality. If three candidates ran, the top two vote-getters would then compete in a run-off election.

The charter panel might also recommend adding sanctions for those who don't follow the rules of procedure. The danger here, as the attorneys say, is that hard cases make bad law and the city government might get saddled with a strict code of etiquette that would stifle healthy debate.

My advice to Trump: Apologize and promise to sin no more. It won't kill you. President Bush did it on the Katrina issue and he's still breathing.

Don't worry about what your supporters will say; if they were true friends they would already be telling you that your attempts at humor are often misunderstood and that if you don't find a way to work with this council, they will find a way to render you irrelevant.

There are worse things than being irrelevant. One is being the object of ridicule. If people begin tuning into the council meetings to see what blow-up will take place this week, as opposed to what elected officials will do to make life better for city residents, this mayor and council will find it difficult to be taken seriously, no matter how serious the issue before them is.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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