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Can we at least look at some new faces?

April 30, 2006|By BOB MAGINNIS

In February, my colleague Tim Rowland wrote that despite all the criticism leveled at the incumbent Washington County Commissioners, there is no guarantee that the county wouldn't end up with something worse if they were all replaced.

As much as I respect him, I have to disagree. If we decide at this point that we can't do better, then we rob new people of the opportunity to impress us. In the early 1970s, I covered a commissioner candidate by the name of Keller Nigh. He didn't make speeches, but had conversations with people. He didn't make grand promises, but said that if he were given a chance, he would do his best.

Give me candidates who'll admit they don't know everything, but who can take the long view and try to put things in place to handle what the county will face in five, 10 or 20 years.

If we'd had such commissioners, someone might have realized that the Robinwood area, designated a "new community" in the early '70s, would require more than two-lane roads to carry all those new residents, not to mention students to an expanding community college.

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Perhaps someone would have noticed that Frederick County, Md., and Loudon County, Va., were filling up, and that Washington County was the next stop for developers seeking cheaper land and lower fees.

Foresighted commissioners might have figured out that cooperating on annexation with Hagerstown made more sense than filing a lawsuit. As this board found, lawsuits are like lottery tickets - sometimes the prize is not exactly what you thought it would be.

Commissioners with some vision would realize that there are social problems such as teen pregnancy that require their leadership, as opposed to sitting by quietly, hoping somebody else will risk religious conservatives' ire with talk of birth control.

Sitting quietly by has been the preferred policy of the current county board on a number of matters.

On Washington County Hospital's proposed move to Robinwood, the incumbents spent a long time watching hospital officials and Hagerstown's Mayor and Council go round and round before finally putting the project on "the fast track."

And how about that old chestnut, the idea of saving taxpayers money by merging some Hagerstown and Washington County departments?

In 2002, Commissioner Doris Nipps said she'd to explore merging some Hagerstown, Washington County and School Board operations, including human resources departments.

Nipps said the county should also look at a School Board takeover of maintenance and operation of the County Commuter bus service. Merge police agencies, too, she said.

Commissioners Greg Snook and James Kercheval liked the idea of consolidation, too.

With such support, the issue should have been a winner, but have you heard much about it lately? Or do you hear more about both governments' need to add employees to cope with growth?

Other tidbits from 2002:

Commissioner William Wivell was all for controlled growth. He said then that while the county had some tools in place, they needed " to be further refined/defined and exemptions removed. (Emphasis added.)

Kercheval said that growth is positive.

"A lot of people see this growth as a problem, and I see it as an opportunity," he said. ""We have to take advantage of the positives and limit the negatives as much as possible."

Commissioner John Munson, like others, favored merging of some city and county services. But in a preview of things to come, he called growth controls "unconstitutional" and said that fire companies could save money by "not purchasing fancy firetrucks."

These five are all good people, but on too many issues - rural rezoning is just one - they haven't worked together. On that issue, it meant that the county got a plan that wasn't as good as it should have been. On the matter of tax relief, the commissioners deferred to a consultant, who said a rebate rather than a rate cut was best.

Citizens pay the commissioners to make those decisions, but this board has gone through citizen task forces and consultants like patrons at a sports bar go through pretzels. This team may not need to be replaced entirely, but we ignore possible additions and subtractions at our peril.

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