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The holidays approach, but after they're over ...

November 09, 2005|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last week my sister asked me what I wanted for Christmas.

At the time, it seemed way too soon to talk about holiday gift-giving. Weren't we sweltering just last week and worrying about whether local farmers' corn would bake in the blistering sun?

No, it wasn't just last week, but weeks and months that passed by in a blur, just as all things do when you get older.

But her question reminded me about something I've learned repeatedly over the last 30 years here at The Herald-Mail: The period between Thanksgiving and New Year's is a tough one for anyone trying to grab the public's attention.

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During that time, most of us are preoccupied with end-of-the year business, some professional, but most of it personal.

We worry that if we don't take time to see our far-flung relatives this year, they may not be around 12 months from now - or may conclude that we no longer care.

We do things like collecting toys or food for the poor because we know we have an obligation to help those not as lucky as we are. We worship, each according to our own faiths, either out of love for our creator or because some of us fear we might be forgotten by heaven's ruler if we don't say our prayers.

And then there is the buying and the wrapping and decorating. How could any mere politician or advocate for a cause hope to compete with all that?

They can't, and most are wise enough not to try, because they know that few want any such intrusions into the coming season and its celebrations.

But when this time is over and Jan. 1 and the Rose Bowl Parade are past, there is something that citizens need to do.

Local elections will be held in 2006, for the sheriff and the Washington County Commissioners, among others. Several candidates for sheriff have been thoughtful enough to declare for the office, which should give citizens more of an opportunity to decide who is the best qualified.

When I started work at The Herald-Mail in 1973, the sheriff was paid less than $30,000 a year, but had the "perk" of living with his family in a county-owned house - since demolished - near the old jail on Jonathan Street.

The next sheriff will be paid $80,000 to supervise 219 employees and oversee a $15 million budget that is likely to grow along with the county's population.

Every new shopping center provides more tax money, but also generates more calls for service as shoplifters ply their trade. Everyone who buys a house in a new subdivision expects that if they hear someone prowling around the backyard, a deputy will answer their 911 call.

When I began work here, the Washington County Commissioners met one day a week to hear county department heads report on their most mundane activities, such as where drainage ditches were being dug and how many youths could be hired to mow county property during the summer months.

Today, the board still meets as a group one day a week, but the amount of reading required and the time consumed by meeting in groups such as the city and county governments' 2-plus-2 committee make the post a near full-time commitment.

The next county board elected will be responsible for raising the money to build a bunch of new schools and renovate others where repairs are long overdue.

The next board will also determine whether this area can preserve enough farmland to retain its rural character and avoid the expense that will surely come with sprawl development.

And where will the next generation of county residents work? The next board will be challenged to bring in jobs that will keep the area's best and brightest from having to run up and down Interstate 70 every day.

To the potential candidates, especially those who are not well-known, my advice is to declare soon after Jan. 1 and speak often. The best ideas can get lost when those offering them are unfamiliar and possibly (in voters' minds) a more risky choice than those they already know.

To the voters, I say this: Enjoy the celebrations to come, religious and otherwise. But when they are done, please start paying attention to those contests that are so important to this county's future. For me, that would be a perfect, if belated, Christmas present.

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

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