Robinwood foes: Not seeking a fight, but not backing

March 21, 2007|by BOB MAGINNIS

Before I interview anyone, I try to read what's been written about them in The Herald-Mail archives.And so I went looking for information on Gordon and Janet Bartels, two of remaining five appellants of the Washington County Hospital's planned move to Robinwood.

There wasn't much to alarm there. The Bartels, who bought a home in downtown's East End in 2005, have gotten involved in the city's Neighborhoods First organization and have planted a garden at Bester Elementary School so that they can share fresh vegetables with students' familes.

In 2004, they also attended a peace and unity rally held as an alternative to a Ku Klux Klan rally in Sharpsburg.

More interesting was a quote I found on an Internet search from Fred Bruning's March 10 article in Newsday, in which he described the former Long Islanders as "community activists of uncommon valor and enterprise. If there is a dragon within 50 miles, the Bartels are going to snuff the sonuvagun."


And so I contacted Bruning to see what sort of dragons the Bartels might have slain.

Bruning e-mailed, saying that "Gordon and Janet are politically involved, upstanding individuals dedicated to what I consider to be all the right things - racial reconciliation, peace, environmental sanity, community service. In their personal and public lives, they live out their ideals in a variety of ways. I will let them provide you the specifics."

The Bartels, now in their 60s, told me they didn't come to Hagerstown to slay any dragons, but because the city was on the center of a line between Cleveland and Greensboro, N.C., where their grandchildren live. They had also been living in New Hampshire and were seeking warmer winters.

The Bartels said they decided to spend a winter here and moved into a Kenley Square apartment and soon began watching the Hagerstown City Council on TV.

They tried to educate themselves about the community, they said, attending meetings and volunteering for groups such as the Hagerstown HotSpots, now known as C-Safe.

They also worked to re-elect incumbents in the last city elections, Gordon Bartels said, adding "we felt that was a referendum on the hospital."

Janet Bartels agreed, saying, "We feel there are many people who are agreeing with us. We learned about the 1991 agreement and we saw that the zoning should be upheld. That's what this is about - the zoning should be upheld."

The "1991 agreement" allowed the construction of the Robinwood Medical Center and foes of the move have claimed that hospital officials agreed that they wouldn't move an acute-care facility, with ambulances and helicopter traffic, there in the future.

Hospital officials dispute that interpretation, saying that a new hospital there was never ruled out.

The Bartels said that nobody would benefit more than they would if the hospital moved. The noise the Robinwood area doesn't want - sirens wailing and the chop-chop-chop of helicopters overhead - is theirs now.

"We'd much rather be gardening" than engaging in this fight, Janet Bartles said.

So, I said, what about those "dragons" Bruning wrote about?

"First of all," Janet Bartels said, "I think Fred was engaging in some hyperbole."

Gordon Bartels said, "I think what he was referring to was our feeling of right and wrong, to be concerned about all people, regardless of their economic status. We believe strongly in fighting for those peoples' rights."

During her stint as librarian in New Hampshire, Janet Bartels said she was regularly in conflict with the town's selectmen over funding issues.

In that part of the state, she said, there was a division between those of French ancestry and other citizens. Despite that, she pushed for established of a library in what she called the "Franco-American" part of town.

At the same time she said, "we don't go around ..."

".. looking for fights," her husband said, although they were involved in opposing a large garbage incinerator in Long Island.

The Bartels do not seem inclined to drop the hospital appeal, though the hospital has had conversations with their attorney and they've spoken to two county commissioners directly.

"In every case," Gordon Bartels said, "the discussion began with 'Can we reach a compromise?'"

And in each case, he said, "the compromise involved us dropping our appeal."

And so they will continue, he said.

"This is not about the need for a new hospital, but about the integrity of the zoning," he said.

The Bartels are the kind of people this community needs - educated, caring and willing to volunteer for good causes.

The danger, of course, is that once such people are here and involved, they won't do what those who've lived here all their lives would like them to do.

Persuading the Bartels to drop the appeal, if proponents can do it, will involve convincing them that continuing to pursue it would do economic damage to those can least afford it.

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

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