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Council plans public and private interviews for applicants

November 30, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Hagerstown's mayor and some city council members support a mix of public and private interviews before picking the next council member.

The council is scheduled to publicly interview six applicants for 10 minutes apiece Tuesday, which Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said is enough time.

The following week, in a closed session, the council will interview finalists - possibly all six.

Sixteen people applied to replace Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire, who is leaving to be a Washington County commissioner next week. The council cut the list to six on Tuesday in a closed session.

The city council plans to swear in Aleshire's replacement Dec. 19.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner said the public will see applicants and hear their views Tuesday. Council meetings are televised.

The following week, private interviews are appropriate because "personal matters," such as family or employment, might be discussed, he said.

Bruchey said questions during the follow-up interview might be embarrassing.

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Bruchey, Metzner and Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh agreed that picking Aleshire's replacement is distinct from an election in which candidates market themselves to the public.

Filling a vacancy, Bruchey said, is more similar to choosing a city department head.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer prefers longer public interviews. "I could spend 10 minutes myself asking questions," she said. Instead, she figures council members will get to ask maybe two issue-related questions apiece.

Aleshire and Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

The city's charter says the council appoints replacements if elected positions become open. Successors must be enrolled for more than a year in the same party as the official who left. Aleshire is a Democrat.

Of the 10 applicants eliminated Tuesday, two were Steven R. Cromer, the husband of Kelly Cromer, and Gary E. Swartz, the brother of Nigh.

City Attorney Mark Boyer said the city's ethics policy prohibits council members from decisions that have "a direct financial impact" on them or their relatives. Without Aleshire, Nigh and Kelly Cromer, that would leave only two council members - not enough to take action, Boyer said.

The council cited a state Open Meetings Act exemption as the basis for holding private deliberations and interviews as it picks a new council member.

Asked in an interview if this was permitted, Maryland Assistant Attorney General William Varga said the matter could be private, but another approach is more appropriate.

He said the city council appears to be acting as an administrative body in choosing a replacement. Therefore, under the "administrative function" exemption, the council could hold private meetings and the Open Meetings Act would not apply, Varga said.

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