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A few money-saving ideas would justify trio's expenses

December 20, 2005

At this late date, is there anything more to be said about the Hagerstown City Council's latest flap?

Yes. But first, for those who missed the first chapter of this saga, it went like this:

Three members of the council - Kelly Cromer, Penny Nigh and Alesia Parson-McBean - attended the National League of Cities' Congress of Cities Conference in Charlotte, N.C., from Dec. 6-10.

Nigh and Cromer have since said that questions by The Herald-Mail about the conference came only because they are women and that men in government get a free ride, so to speak.

"We are singled out," Nigh said at the Dec. 13 council meeting, adding "We are the women."

Since the story assignment originated from a woman - Liz Thompson, city editor of the Herald-Mail - the claim of sexism seems far-fetched.

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In her column this past Sunday, Thompson explained that her interest in the story was piqued because Cromer and Nigh, who had complained about the $684 cost of a chartered bus, seemed willing to attend a conference that would cost several thousand dollars.

The use of taxpayers' money is always news, no matter what the sex of the person using it.

When County Commissioner John Munson campaigned for office and said that a $10,000 raise the next board would get was not justified, it was news when he decided to accept the raise anyway.

In a Dec. 17, 2002 story by Tara Reilly, Munson explained his change of heart.

"I should not have said that during the campaign I guess," Munson said. "There's a lot more to being a County Commissioner" than most people realize.

That would have been news whether it was Munson or Commissioner Dori Nipps who did a turnabout on the issue. To paraphrase a Clinton-era slogan, it's the money, not the sex of the person spending it.

Now that we've established that, let's get to the key question on this issue: What did taxpayers get for their money?

Anyone who has ever gone to a convention knows that it's possible to treat these events either as social functions or educational experiences.

To justify the expense of this convention, the three council members have to tell the public what they got out of it.

Have other cities found ways to work more cooperatively with their local county governments? In the age of malls, are there other ways to encourage the redevelopment of older downtown areas?

Do rising real estate prices mean the displacement of long-time residents who don't have the buying power of new arrivals from other areas?

Finally, are there ways to save taxpayers dollars that would be simple to put in place?

If one idea from the conference saves $10,000, the money spent to send the three members there will be worth it.

We await with great interest their report on what they learned and how they would implement those ideas..

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