City serves new mayor a full plate

March 05, 2006|By BOB MAGINNIS

Sometimes you don't have to say much to say a lot.

Robert Bruchey II proved that again this week when he declined to give a speech after he was sworn in as Hagerstown's mayor. It would have been the perfect opportunity to puff himself up and throw a few snide remarks at the man he replaced, Richard "Dick" Trump.

It was Trump who inspired Bruchey's unsuccessful write-in effort by allowing his campaign to send out a last-minute postcard during the GOP primary that showed Bruchey shaking hands with then-Gov. Parris Glendening, reviled as a tax-and-spend Democrat by many Republicans.

As Bruchey explained, it was Glendening who decided to bring the new University System of Maryland campus to downtown. Should the mayor have refused the hand of someone bearing such a gift? Of course not.


Bruchey also played it smart this past Wednesday by just thanking the council, hugging his wife in front of the cameras, then leaving. As my colleague Tim Rowland reminded me, it was similar to what Bruchey did in his first term, when he spent the first six months saying little. Once he gets to know the current council's members and gets up to date on issues, there will be plenty to talk about.

To get an idea of what his positions might be, I re-read most of The Herald-Mail stories that have been written about him since he first filed for office in 1996, including a May 1998 interview with Julie Greene on the anniversary of his first year in office.

It was clear then that he had been a quick study. When he first filed, he said he felt the city should have more places for young people, such as the ice rink. A year later, when subsidies for the Hagerstown Ice & Sports Complex were growing, Bruchey said the rink was "a perfect example of government getting into something they shouldn't be in."

In that 1998 interview, Bruchey lamented the slow pace of government action. Almost eight years later, some of the issues he listed as problems still have not been solved. They include:

The city's relationship with Washington County. A suit filed over a city policy requiring those who wanted city utility service to sign pre-annexation agreements went to court, but the judge's ruling didn't give either side a decisive victory.

Sewer stories bore many readers, but here's why they're important: If an industry wants to locate in an area of Washington County not covered by previous service agreements with the city, Hagerstown can still ask for that agreement - unless city officials can be persuaded to waive it. When Tractor Supply wanted to bring its warehouse here, the County Commissioners got the waiver with a big contribution to the second downtown parking deck. This is no way to run a railroad, or do economic development. A real, comprehensive agreement on annexation is needed.

The city's revenue situation. Despite rising property values, some city officials are hinting they may have to raise the property-tax rate again, for the fifth time in six years. One possibility, raised by Bruchey is 1998, would be an increase in the so-called tax setoff payment that Washington County gives municipalities to compensate them for county services their residents don't get.

In 1998, Bruchey estimated that because the county government was subsidizing its residents' sewer rates with millions from the general fund - cash raised in large part from city residents - and that Hagerstown should get at least $885,000 more each year.

Another possibility: An annexation agreement with the Washington County Health System that would provide the new hospital with city water and sewer services at a lower cost in exchange for new tax revenue from the for-profit Robinwood Medical Center. Or the health system could agree to a cap on the cost of city workers' medical care. That's a bill that wouldn't come due all at once, but would slow some rapidly rising costs for city government.

The city government's relationship with some members of the business community. This has been strained, for reasons it would take too long to explain here, but Bruchey was undoubtedly miffed that some local movers and shakers didn't think enough of his first term to support him the second time he ran. But there are good reasons for the new mayor not to write off this group.

For example, downtown desperately needs something to generate foot traffic. What that might be is a column for another day, but if the business community can help bring in a company with a couple of hundred workers or an attraction such as a museum, that would be a big plus.

Bruchey was also a proponent of a new stadium for the Hagerstown Suns, which probably won't happen without the business community's help with the proposed redevelopment of the East End. I'm betting both the mayor and business leaders are smart enough to know that they don't have to be in love with each other to get something accomplished.

The mayor's relationship with the council. Without a vote, the mayor has to persuade the council rather than trying to dictate to it. As a salesman, Bruchey knows listening is an important part of reaching a solution. With some members of the council, what he will have to do is listen to their concerns, explore them and then attempt to convince them that if they get 95 percent of what they want, they shouldn't reject a good deal in a quest for a perfect one.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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