Snook proud of work for county

December 03, 2006|by TARA REILLY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Gregory I. Snook's father used to tell him, "If you want the pats on the back, you've got to be able to take the kicks in the butt."

Snook got that kick in the butt on his first day as president of the Washington County Commissioners in December 1994.

That's when he learned the county's finances were in such bad shape that it couldn't afford to make the Board of Education's payroll. The commissioners had to borrow about $2 million so that School Board employees would get their paychecks.

"That was my wake-up call, my first day," Snook, 49, said.

As he approaches his last day as president and a commissioner on Monday, Snook is able to easily pick out the accomplishments for which he is most proud: helping to dig the county out of a financial mess in the 1990s and voting for the county takeover of water and sewer operations.


They were also the toughest issues he's had to deal with during his 16 years in office, he said.

The difficulties weren't unexpected, he said.

Snook learned the workings of county government from his father, Martin L. Snook, who was a commissioner from 1974 until his death in 1989, he said.

"I used to go to meetings with my dad when I was in school, so I knew what I was getting into," he said.

Snook was first elected in 1990. His decision not to seek a fifth term will mark the end of an almost consecutive 30-year period with a Snook on the board. Before that, his uncle, Harry Snook, was a commissioner in the 1960s and served as county treasurer.

Snook ran for the elected position, he said, because of a desire to serve the public.

"I just wanted to try to contribute something back to the community," he said.

County employees think Snook has accomplished that goal.

Tim Troxell, executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, credits Snook with playing an important role in boosting economic development. During his years as a commissioner, 13,000 jobs were created, he said in a written statement.

Troxell called Snook the county's "number one economic developer."

Businesses including Volvo Powertrain North America (formerly Mack Trucks), First Data, Citicorp, Phoenix Color, Susquehanna Bancshares, FedEx Ground, Home Depot Direct and Good Humor/Breyer's have moved to or expanded in the county during Snook's 16 years on the board.

"Greg was a strong force in almost every one of those jobs coming to Washington County," Troxell said.

Mary Baykan, director of Washington County Free Library, said in a written statement that Snook played a part in new branch libraries being built in Clear Spring, Smithsburg and Boonsboro.

He "understood how important libraries are to the communities and to the families, and, particularly, to the children who the libraries serve," Baykan said.

Snook says he never expected to serve for 16 years as a commissioner.

"I thought, maybe, two terms, but once you start, it's hard to back away from it," Snook said.

But stress had begun taking its toll, he said, and he began thinking about plans to not seek re-election about a year ago.

Along with making county decisions at weekly meetings, sometimes about controversial topics, the commissioners' role requires that they serve on several boards and committees. Snook sits on at least 10 boards, according to his profile on the county's Web site.

That's in addition to dealing directly with the taxpayers. Snook said he averaged 125 e-mails and 15 to 20 phone calls from the public a day seeking various kinds of assistance.

"I felt I just couldn't go another four years just due to the stress, and I wanted to go out on top," Snook said. "And I felt that this was the appropriate time to do it."

Snook jokes he plans to reintroduce himself to his employees at his business - Greenlawn Cemetery and Valley Pet Cemetery in Williamsport - but has no major plans for his free time. So far, he's been asked to serve on eight boards, but he hasn't committed. He plans to think it over.

"I'm going to take it easy for a while," Snook said.

Although, he said, he intends to stay involved in the community.

He lives in Williamsport with his wife, Ruthann. They have two children, Katie, 26, and Sarah, 22.

As he leaves office, Snook said the county is in good financial shape with money in the bank should it come across budget woes. The commissioners have also left a foundation for which to manage growth, including passing an excise tax on new construction, reworking the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance and passing a comprehensive zoning plan.

His only regret is that he never kept a diary. He thinks it would have been nice to look back at his experiences as a commissioner.

"It's been really good," Snook said. "I've enjoyed it. I'll miss the people big time."

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