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Council isn't blameless, but it's up to the mayor to stop acting out

October 02, 2005|By TIM ROWLAND

When the Hagerstown City Council, in one of its backwaters-of-civilization moods, was being grumpy over a church plan to relocate a few dozen Turkish refugees here, it was Mayor Dick Trump who correctly pointed out that America was built upon refuge from political oppression and that he personally would welcome the Turks with open arms.

Later that same meeting, when the council was lamenting the sum success of its ongoing meetings with the Washington County Commissioners, Trump refrained from leaping into the fray, allowing the group to move off of ground zero on its own by placing the hospital at the top of its agenda.

In between these goalposts of lucidity, the mayor occupied himself by shouting down one of the council members, accusing the group as a whole of being anti-growth and in general making the council so angry that at least one member felt the need to get up and leave the chambers.

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In business, Trump has the tools to be an effective leader. Which begs the question: Why isn't he better in public office? More to the point, the entire city is asking, why can't he behave?

So troublesome is his behavior that the council took the startling step of writing the mayor a stinging, public letter of reprimand, saying that the mayor's "failure to follow basic rules of procedure, decorum and civility have worsened. This is unacceptable."

As if to accentuate the council's point, Trump later gave a rambling, nonsensical response to a newspaper reporter's request for comment on the letter, saying, "The key is to keep baseball in Hagerstown and not let it go to the county ... My key is to keep baseball. I don't think I can keep decorum and baseball."

No one has any idea what in the world he was talking about.

Council members say the mayor made a public scene at a state-government meeting that embarrassed them and the city. They say his behavior at BluesFest was similarly uncomfortable. He appears angry and/or paranoid when people don't bow to his will, then makes shallow efforts at reconciliation by asking everyone for hugs.

So we can understand where the council is coming from on the behavior front.

A brief aside is needed here, because there was also the implication that Trump hadn't listened when the council basically made it clear his opinions and input were not welcome. There was a "What part of 'sit down and shut up' didn't you understand?" tone to the letter, which reminds us that the council isn't totally blameless in this whole mess.

Trump, a duly elected mayor states his opinions during council meetings? My gosh, what is the world coming to? And come on, let's be real for a second. Council members Penny Nigh and Kristin Aleshire complaining that Trump is too argumentative is like I-81 complaining that I-95 has too many trucks. Memo to council: Lest ye forget, people were tuning into City Council meetings for "entertainment" purposes long before new whipping boy showed up on the scene.

Council members try to paint the picture that they have given the mayor every chance to work in a spirit of cooperation - that privately, they have calmly tried to coach him into his proper role.

Sorry, but no one who has watched the council's eye-rolling, loud-sighing, under-breath-muttering schoolgirl drama is going to believe that for a second. And Lew Metzner's call for some kind nebulous charter review that has "absolutely nothing to do" with Trump is probably born of frustration, but gives the appearance of being political and just as petty as the mayor can be.

If Trump thinks the council is anti-growth, that's his right to say - and quite frankly, that's an argument that can be made. And if any council members are going to get their feelings hurt over a valid debate to the point where they would attempt to quash an elected mayor's freedom of speech, then they are the ones who are unfit for office.

But as defenses of the mayor go, that's about as far as you can take it. Where the council is absolutely correct - and why it absolutely had to write this letter - is in the awkward issue of the mayor's behavior. The council members and city residents alike can't keep going to public functions fearing in the back of their minds that at some point in the evening someone may have to Taser the mayor.

Perhaps Trump attended some management seminar that taught a good way to gain the upper hand is to disarm people by throwing peanut shells at them, or talking in non sequiturs. Maybe it's just his personal style to dance in the aisles, or to come totally unglued when someone questions his authority or to try to win friends with inappropriate wisecracks. That's the kind of stuff that may work with the guys in a private business setting.

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