Four hours and 40 candidates later ..

August 20, 2006|by BOB MAGINNIS

After watching 24 Washington County Commissioner candidates Wednesday at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, I was tempted to stay home Thursday and watch the week's second forum on TV.

But I know myself too well. I always promise myself I'll watch Hagerstown's City Council on TV and then someone starts droning on about some little footnote or pothole and I zone out, or head for the kitchen.

And so I watched and took notes for four hours on two nights. My first observation was: God bless anyone who runs for elected office. There you are, under the lights, wondering what sort of questions some anonymous person in the audience might ask, smiling until your cheeks hurt and wondering whether you will freeze when it's your turn to answer.

That said, here are some of my thoughts on what I heard:

County growth and all the problems that come with it was the theme of the Wednesday forum. Former Commissioner Paul Swartz and Lloyd "Pete" Waters suggested looking for some communities that have handled it successfully.


The problem is that much has happened, or as Edward Forrest said, been allowed to happen. Now schools are crowded, major roads projects aren't close to being done and local wages haven't kept pace with land prices.

My suggestion: Look at what Winchester and Frederick County, Va., are doing to combine services. Government will need every dollar it can save to handle growth.

Speaking of housing, Commissioner Doris Nipps came out in favor of work force housing and said that inclusionary zoning, which allows a developer more density in exchange for building some less pricey homes, may help.

As it happens, a citizen commission put together a report on work force housing that was delivered last November.

But in April, when a developer proposed a development that would limit rents according to renters' income, the commissioners rejected it.

Former School Board member Herbert Hardin said that for growth control, he advocated implementing an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance and making sure a zoning board and an appeals board are in place. I agree. And I hope that as soon as possible we can create a city police force, too.

Commissioner John Munson said he was proud that the commissioners had held down the tax rate for the past four years. He conceded that assessments have risen, but said "I'm going to blame that on the state."

Munson did make an attempt to lower the tax rate, but was not successful in persuading his colleagues to go along.

Commissioner William Wivell said he favored purchasing permanent easements to preserve farmland. The problem is that the cost of easements is rising and Wivell has resisted a bond issue for that purpose. The county will now buy easements on a time-payment plan.

For the School Board's next term, it sounds as if there will be an effort to add diversity education to the curriculum, to teach children about those with different ethnic backgrounds. There was a consensus that there will soon be more immigrants coming to this area.

The idea of accommodating these newcomers will be an easier sell than the one thing not mentioned this week - tolerance for members of the homosexual community.

In the sheriff's race, the man to beat would seem to be Douglas Mullendore, currently the chief deputy of the department. Mullendore had the foresight to see that gangs would be a growing problem in the region and helped form the Gang Task Force. Sheriff Charles Mades hasn't endorsed anyone yet, however. If I were Mullendore, getting that would be my top priority.

In both the sheriff's race and the state's attorney's race, many of the candidates agreed that there are communication problems between the various police departments and other agencies, such as the public defender's office.

Some said they felt that putting them all on the same radio frequency would help, while Rich Poffenberger suggested the answer might be a criminal-investigation bureau, made up of officers from all local departments.

In the race for the Maryland District 2C delegate seat, Thursday's surprise was James Devine, who offered a number of well-thought-out suggestions, including taxing Internet commerce to recoup sales tax the state loses when residents purchase online.

Incumbent Democratric Del. John Donoghue and Republican challenger Paul Muldowney didn't pay much attention to Devine, choosing instead to toss barbs at each other.

On slot-machine legalization, which has been blocked by Democratic House Speaker Michael Busch, Muldowney said that was costing the state $650 million a year that could help with school construction.

Donoghue's retorts included a suggestion that he had made alliances that had brought legislation to create the Medbank prescription program. As one of his accomplishments, Donoghue said he had backed a bill for the state pension system "to fix damage inflicted in the 1980s."

Lest anyone forget, Muldowney helped craft legislation to fix a previous legislature's addition of an unlimited cost-of-living clause to the system.

Whether that issue still rankles enough people to defeat Muldowney is unclear. What is clear is that on issues such as medical malpractice, health costs and the rising cost of energy, Donoghue must either distance himself from the Democratic leaders, or risk being pulled down by some of the ill-considered moves - including electricity deregulation - that they have made in the past.

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

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