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City Council not united in letting workers help

October 10, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Commentary

Thank goodness we have the Hagerstown City Council, which last week did something that I think we have all wanted to do at some time or another: put the United Way in its place.

I mean, who among us hasn't wanted to tell the United Way, "Oh please, just shut up with the helping others, and supporting the needy in the community, and the "Day of Caring" this and the 'Thanks to You it Works' that. So just take your slogans and your goodie-goodie attitude and shove it up your donation box."

Well, now we don't have to say that anymore, because the City Council has done it for us.

Basically, some city employees wanted some time to help out during the day to pitch in for the United Way's Day of Caring. They also thought it might be nice to give city employees who donated the most to United Way some paid time off as a prize.

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I think everyone feels the same outrage over those proposals as I do. But fortunately, we can all save our petitions because the City Council is way ahead of us. If city workers are going to give, it all has to come at their own time and expense.

Good move. Put the clamps on that cancer before it can take root. Care and giving for others in need - that's the wrong message for the city to be sending to our public servants.

Whew. You had to know this moment was going to come, didn't you? For three or four months, the council has been sitting there with its mouth clamped shut, basically behaving itself and acting in a way that could almost be mistaken for civil.

That couldn't last.

Like a Vesuvius plugged for too long by an oversized cork, it all came spewing out, all the insane, ridiculous vitriol we have all come to know and love.

Offer a little incentive to help the United Way? No Way. No way, no how. That would be like using tax money to help the poor. Which, of course, government does every day of the year, but forget that - can't have facts creeping into the discussion. If that happened, you would have to point out that the city sponsors routine blood drives in which employees take time away from their jobs to donate. The sad part is that you can't help but get the sense that the council members view themselves as being stunningly clever by figuring out that time spent helping the needy is time spent away from the desk.

And the council members are all Democrats. They're supposed to be the caring ones. Good thing Republicans don't control City Hall, or the United Way Board of Directors might have been hauled in for a public flogging.

"You don't give because you receive," said councilwoman Kelly Cromer, temporarily forgetting, it would seem, the entire federal tax code that allows for charitable donations on the standard 1040.

So if you're going to be nice, do it on your own time. This, of course, flies in the face of pretty much every private business in the county, which happily encourages their employees to do a few good works on company time. In fact, usually the companies cajole the employees. It speaks well of city workers that they were the ones who took the initiative.

Or it would, if they were dealing with people who had any concept of logic and common sense.

If people want to volunteer, said councilwoman Penny Nigh, volunteer on nights or weekends.

Bob Cratchit is lucky he only had Scrooge to deal with. It's too easy to see Penny "Are there no prisons, are the workhouses full?" Nigh hunched over the ledger in a freezing office denying the luxury of a half day off at Christmas.

To give workers a little treat for giving of themselves would be tantamount to the city making a charitable donation itself, said councilman Lew Metzner.

I'm a little confused. So does that mean it's a good thing or a bad thing? He makes it sound like a bad thing. Notwithstanding the fact that every budget year the city does just that - makes charitable donations. But who in the city is worried that it might wrongly help? United Way members such as the Commission on Aging or Big Brothers Big Sisters? The Community Free Clinic? Girl Scouts, Goodwill, Red Cross, Memorial Recreation, Food Resources or the Alzheimer's Association? I can see that. No way do you want to get your fingerprints on any of those train wrecks.

Where's Dick Trump and his bus? We could drive the council to all these agencies so they could see all the people they have saved from being helped.

So the message is clear: The city is in the business of helping constituents, not helping its employees to help constituents. Brilliant. The United Way. Thanks to you it works; thanks to the City of Hagerstown, it doesn't.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. You can listen to his podcast, The Rowland Rant, on www.antpod.com.

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