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Closing door on interviews begs public question

February 26, 2006|by TERRY HEADLEE

The new mayor of Hagerstown is expected to be interviewed, selected and announced Tuesday night.

And with the exception of the official announcement, all of it will be done behind closed doors with little to no public discussion.

The five Democrats on the city council could have decided to make the selection of the mayor a more public process.

But, of course, they decided against it.

Why?

As reported by City Hall reporter Daniel J. Sernovitz last week, the official reason given for the closed-door interviews with the four finalists is that it would be unfair to hold public interviews because the applicants might not have expected that going into the process.

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In other words, the applicants weren't told beforehand the interviews could be held in a public forum, so it stands to reason you can't put that kind of accountability and stress on them now (that's my conclusion, anyhow).

Thankfully, I wasn't eating a country ham sandwich at the time I read that or I would have choked to death.

Just stop and think about what you just read.

Does that mean if Carol N. Moller or Robert E. Bruchey II - both former elected officials - were told at the outset that the interviews would be held in public that they would have said "thanks, but I'm not that interested in the job.''

Of course not.

And if they did, then it's best to know that important information up front, particularly if an elected official doesn't care for public scrutiny and accountability. In that case, that's a pretty strong argument to question the applicant's commitment to the mayoral responsibilities.

Besides, don't most candidates running for office go out of their way to publicize their positions and also show up at political forums with fliers to explain why voters should elect them to office?

Of course they do. That's the whole point of running for office - which is exactly what all four applicants are doing in this case.

The reason why you should care about all this is because Hagerstown is one of the largest cities in Maryland and five people from the opposite party - while meeting in secret - are going to decide the next mayor to succeed Richard Trump. Trump quit the post earlier this month, citing irreconcilable differences with the council.

Wouldn't you like to know the questions the council members ask each Republican applicant and their responses? What if one makes a stronger case for moving the city forward and complains later that he or she made a compelling argument for being mayor?

Even more interesting, what if the council picks the applicant who sandbags the answers - with the thinking that the least threatening candidate will be the easiest for a Democratic mayoral candidate to pick off in the 2009 election.

Too bad you won't be getting any of that insight.

OK, it's true that the mayor of Hagerstown is mostly a ceremonial position and can only vote to break a tie.

But it's still an important position because the mayor is generally regarded as the official "voice" of the city and also is largely responsible for setting the city's agenda.

I'm sure readers are hopeful that the council takes this important task seriously and picks the best person for the job.

And with no one looking over their shoulders, we'll have to take their word for it.




Terry Headlee is executive editor of The Herald-Mail. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7594, or by e-mail at terryh@herald-mail.com.

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