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Change the city charter to let citizens see more

March 03, 2006

Last September, Hagerstown Councilman Lewis Metzner proposed that a panel of former mayors review the city charter, a document that hasn't been substantially altered since the 1980s.

At the time, some saw Metzner's proposal as a ploy to undercut Mayor Richard "Dick" Trump, who was having some problems with council members.

Now that Trump has resigned, the charter review should go forward, for a couple of reasons.

The first is the one Metzner raised back in September. With three candidates seeking the mayor's office in the last election, no single candidate got more than 40 percent of the vote.

If that happens again, the charter should mandate a runoff election between the top two vote-getters.

Second, but no less important, the charter needs to be changed to require that when a vacancy occurs in the mayor's office or on the council, would-be replacements must be interviewed in public.

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That didn't happen this time. The council whittled down the list to four contenders, then talked to them in executive session.

In his column this past Sunday, Executive Editor Terry Headlee made a good case for allowing the public to hear those interviews.

We won't repeat those here, but there is another reason to do the interviews in public and televise them, as the council does with its other meetings.

Those who applied for the vacant spot were expressing interest in serving the city and its citizens. Even a five-minute presentation would have given voters some idea of whether the candidate had any potential.

And the candidates themselves, when watching a rerun of the meeting, would also get a sense of whether they had some of the abilities it would take to serve.

This was an opportunity to give potential future officials a chance to share their ideas with the public as well as the council.

Would some have used the opportunity to criticize the council? Perhaps so. Metzner did it himself years ago when he applied for a council vacancy, then scolded members for their handling of labor negotiations with the city's police department.

If that hadn't been done in public session, we and the citizens might never have seen that Metzner was the kind of person who was more interested in telling the truth as he saw it than in advancing his own political career.

We're glad we didn't miss that moment. The council should amend the charter to make sure that we don't miss any more of them in the future.

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