The price of being in the spotlight is that it's always on

January 25, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

The morning after the Jan. 3 car crash that sent me to Washington County Hospital's emergency room, The Morning Herald carried a story on the incident.

It quoted police, who said I was at fault for driving into the path of another car.

The story was short and ran inside the B section, but I have no doubt that had I been cited for drinking and driving, the story would have been on the front page.

That's because, first, The Herald-Mail would do whatever was necessary to make it clear that the paper was not giving one of its own special treatment.


But the second reason it would be news is that, like it or not, I have achieved some notoriety in this community.

While I was Christmas shopping, a cashier in a local store recognized me and shook my hand, which was a real treat.

But the price of being in the spotlight is that it's always on, whether or not what you're doing is a good thing.

I remember that whenever I'm tempted to do something wrong, like slapping the rude people who ruined an Anne Murray concert my wife and I went to several years ago at the Maryland Theatre.

I didn't, although they certainly deserved it, in part because I pictured it being described in the following headline: "Editor charged in theater fracas."

The next time you're thinking about doing something questionable, picture that deed ending up as a headline. And remember, it's more likely that whatever you do will attract attention if you're somebody everybody already knows.

Former Washington County Commissioner Paul Swartz has declared for that office again, in part because he said the commissioners now in office failed to consult their predecessors.

Another former commissioner, Ron Bowers, said much the same thing when I interviewed him this past July. Former elected officials should gather for a summit on the county's future, Bowers said.

Both are on the right track, but I would go a step further and take another look at "Shaping Our Future," the 1991 strategic planning report issued by a citizens' group called Focus Inc.

Strategic planning, as opposed to brainstorming, looks at what is possible as opposed to creating a list of blue-sky wishes. Some of the report's recommendations have been enacted, but many weren't, although they remain valid today.

One example: For downtown Hagerstown, the report recommends recruiting a major tenant that would bring large numbers of professionals there to create foot traffic and support for businesses.

So, yes, have that summit, but begin with the Focus Inc. framework to keep discussions on track.

Last month, Washington County Commissioner William Wivell suggested an across-the-board exemption on property assessments that would apply to rental properties as well as owner-occupied homes.

Wivell said that because there is now no cap on rental properties, tenants will take the brunt of rising assessments. And then he said something telling about his fellow commissioners.

"Of course, since I suggested it, they probably won't agree with it," Wivell said.

Are the other commissioners really rejecting Wivell's ideas because they don't like the source? If so, that should be a key plank in his re-election campaign.

If he's outnumbered, Wivell should point out the wrong turns he feels the majority has taken. If you're right and you can't get your colleagues to follow your lead, maybe you need some new colleagues.

Brian Sullivan, a 1982 graduate of Smithsburg High and a veteran of stage and screen, will soon bring his experience to the Maryland Theatre as its new director.

Sullivan is holding off on disclosing his vision for the theater, but the reality is that money will be a big part of it.

The theater needs an annual fund-raiser with donated entertainment, an aggressive membership effort and an endowment fund to offset expenses.

As part of that, Sullivan said he would offer tours explaining how things are done during shows. That would give people in the community the feeling that the theater is not off-limits, but something they have a stake in, he said.

Bargain-priced Saturday-morning Westerns on the big screen wouldn't hurt, either.

Bob Maginnis is Opinion Page editor of The Herald-Mail.

The Herald-Mail Articles