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Choosing a replacement for Hagerstown's mayor

February 03, 2006

This week's resignation of Hagerstown Mayor Richard "Dick" Trump was a surprise, for two reasons. The first is that it was unexplained. The second is that Trump seemed to have gotten past his early problems with City Council members.

But the reasons behind Trump's departure are less important now than where the city government goes from here. Under the city charter, it is the council's duty to choose a replacement. We hope they choose well.

Much has been made of the fact that Hagerstown has a "weak mayor" form of government that gives the city's top elected official no vote, in most cases, on city business.

The mayor is less a chief executive than a facilitator whose power is in the ideas that he or she brings to the table and the persuasive ability used to turn those ideas into city policy.

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That was Trump's downfall early on, when he seemed to believe that the gavel was all he needed to push his agenda forward. He soon found that it takes negotiation with elected officials who might or might not have sound reasons for the positions they hold.

For example, a few council members seem to believe that some local business organizations and their members cannot be trusted.

The evidence of that alleged untrustworthiness is thin from where we sit, but it is an example of the kind of thing the next mayor will have to deal with.

For that reason, we recommend that the council appoint someone who has held elected office, or who has worked extensively with public officials.

Business people are often frustrated by the political process because it can be so slow and because many of the people involved must be convinced to act. That's a big change for a CEO who is accustomed to giving orders to staff and getting projects accomplished in weeks rather than months.

We also would favor someone who has an open mind on issues such as cooperation with the Washington County government. The two governments have so many common interests that acting as rivals doesn't help.

The next mayor also has to be the city's ambassador, meeting with economic-development prospects who don't know anything about the city charter, but do know they want to see whoever is in charge.

The mayor is also the face of the city in the state capital and at meetings of the Maryland Municipal League, so the next holder of that office needs to be a diplomat and counter the unfavorable impression that some metro-area officials have of Hagerstown.

Who should get the job? We'll offer a recommendation after we see who applies to the city clerk's office by the Feb. 15 deadline. If nothing else, this process proves again that picking good council members is an important part of a citizen's duties.

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