Growing pains: Can hopefuls heal them?

August 18, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

As I suspected, 90 seconds is enough. That's the amount of time candidates at Wednesday night's forum were given to answer each question.

Watching those who hope to win seats on Washington County's Board of Commissioners from a seat in Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, it was easy to tell who knew more than they could say in 90 seconds - and who didn't know enough to fill the time.

Controlling growth was the night's dominant topics, with some candidates offering specific ideas, while others said, in effect, "something must be done."

What follows are some of the statements made by the candidates that told me something about them. I'll offer my own thoughts on what was said in a future column.


Without good information, attempts to control growth will fail, said Donna Brightman. She said she had been unable to find out how many "lots of record" there are. She proposed a "holistic database" that would collect that information.

Kristin Aleshire said that to move forward, the county needs educated voters to elect educated candidates. He lamented the fact that during 18 months of meetings to study the county's water and sewer systems, only two citizens chose to attend.

Aleshire also said he has no campaign committee, but said that citizens could call, e-mail or even knock on his door if they wanted to talk about what government is doing.

In answer to a question on how he would manage growth, Paul Swartz said that "it's important that the tail does not wag the dog and the commissioners work for the staff." He suggested looking at areas that have successfully managed growth and borrowing their ideas.

On growth control, Herbert Hardin called for implementing the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance and "making sure we have a zoning board and an appeals board in place."

On the same issue, Lloyd "Pete" Waters suggested visiting those Maryland counties - Prince George's, Montgomery and Frederick - and look at their "best practices." Waters also said the county board has too much to do to meet only one day per week.

In answer to questions about what he had done to help the county, Daniel Moeller said he had addressed the School Board about SAT scores and the County Commissioners about problems with the comprehensive plan update and the current year's county budget.

Later Moeller said that he would not vote for tax rebates, scholarships for all high school students or more tax money for the North High stadium.

On charter home rule, John Weller said that he would favor it, "as long as the citizens still had a voice." He also said he favored trimming the number of commissioners to three.

Hampton Wedlock said his priorities were "good jobs, low interest rates and affordable housing."

On the job front, Wedlock said the county's technical education programs need a revamp because "they're letting their skills slide."

Linn Hendershot said one of his priorities would be to get the Commission on Aging into the county budget and properly funded.

Edward Forrest took the current board to task, saying that problems with growth are due to a "lack of foresight." He noted that the county's excise tax has been revised four times since its initial passage.

"Growth did not just happen to us. We let it happen to us," he said.

Doris Nipps, who alluded to her work with Habitat for Humanity several times, said affordable housing was needed and that one answer could be inclusionary zoning, in which a developer agrees to build some affordable homes in exchange for getting a higher density.

William Wivell called for the preservation of farmland, saying that the best way is the "permanent purchase of easements."

Asked to assess the current level of city-county cooperation, James Kercheval said that he'd been pleased to serve on the 2-plus-2 committee featuring two members of the Hagerstown City Council and two county commissioners.

Kercheval defended the current board's record on growth, saying "We have put some tough growth-management tools into motion."

Asked how the county could promote diversity and tolerance, J. Wallace McClure said he would suggest the county hold a series of events to educate citizens about other ethnic groups' customs and perhaps enlist the school system and the city's cable channel to air diversity messages. McClure also said he could better deal with "out- of-control growth" if citizens elected him commissioners' president.

A bandaged-up John Barr, looking a bit worse for wear after a recent motorcycle accident, said that the county is "second to none," with "tremendous assets."

He added that "maybe we take them for granted."

John Munson promised voters that if re-elected, "I'll keep doing the same things as I have for the past four years."

Munson said he was proud that the current board had kept the tax rate from rising.

He did acknowledge that bills had increased because of rising assessments, but said, "I'm going to blame that on the state."

Wednesday's forum will be rebroadcast four times on Antietam Cable channel 19 on Aug. 24, Aug. 29 and Sept. 5, all at 8 p.m. On Sept. 11, two full forums will be aired back-to-back, beginning at 7 p.m.

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

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