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Concerns don't reflect lack of support

June 23, 2007|by Amy Gillette, Hagerstown

To the editor:

I am a private citizen, residing within the Hagerstown city limits. My husband and I work hard to provide for our children, while making time to assist our elderly parents and volunteer to make Hagerstown the city we know it is. We are good people with no ties to members of Hagerstown business and political entities.

We support the revitalization of Hagerstown and welcome positive change. Our agenda is to provide a safe, culturally enriched and prosperous city to my children. Our family contributes to the city's growth by volunteering and promoting culturally diverse events.

We are also strong community activists, maintaining a quiet and dignified manner.

Surprisingly, reaction to citizens becoming involved in city life has met with mixed results. A small portion of council members and press have expressed bewilderment with citizens who have asked questions in an effort to improve the planning process.

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Various entities have categorized those who ask how city dollars and volunteers are utilized as not wanting the natural order disturbed, and incapable of grasping progress. Citizens' efforts are marginalized.

This was seen when the council stated prior approval for citizen input, then changed its mind. Later in the process, when certain festivals or events were questioned, a range of feedback was given to citizens for asking questions.

Part of the confusion stemmed from council's initial request for citizen input, then their accidental exclusion of polling both businesses and residents. By the time citizens were aware that the issue was on the calendar, a private business owner had posted an online marketing campaign announcing that a certain event was turning into an annual event. Several months passed until this could be clarified. This resulted in mixed messages to citizens, who are constantly criticized for not being active in our community.

Had the city shown the courtesy and reached out ahead of time, talking to both business owners and residents, before the Web site went up, it would have promoted support instead of creating suspicion.

A lack of common sense has accidentally created problems where there could have been unity and excitement for growth.

Interestingly, several months ago, a limited number of people commented in The Herald-Mail's forums, expressing sentiments to make events like Downtown Live and the Pub Crawl annual events, implying they are vital to revitalizing downtown. Later, some complained if there were negativity about Downtown Live or any events downtown, it would lead to outlawing the Mummer's Day parade and efforts for fun downtown.

Last week there was more discussion in the forums, both good and bad, about citizens who express an interest in learning about the revitalization process.

This illustrates the undercurrent by many parties to paint any comments by concerned citizens as killjoys and obstructionists to revitalization. In reality, concerned citizens are just asking for oversight, stewardship of city funds and public safety. These concerned citizens support revitalization.

Those of us called to volunteer at city events stand guilty of wanting downtown events executed in a comprehensive manner, ensuring adequate crowd control and trash pick-up. As happens with new events, some details get forgotten, such as trash pick up. We saw this as a growing pain, a minor detail to correct for next year and address with council. Had we felt more comfortable sharing input, we probably could of addressed some minor improvements for next year. We figured council would be doing a quality assurance review andseeking input, since new events often need to be tweaked.

We believe outdoor festivals are good for downtown. It would be great to see a menu of artistic expression at additional festivals.

There is nothing wrong with suggesting improved oversight, from beginning to end. It is reasonable to expect clarification on what business entities will be receiving revenue from festivals downtown or in City Park. Taxpayers, families and event volunteers deserve to know where their sweat equity and the profits from events are going.

We have the right to present our concerns and suggestions and have them discussed and factored into decisions ahead of time - especially since citizen apathy is often referenced in the paper or mentioned by one or two council members. Ironically, many citizens volunteer at city events and for community initiatives.

They contribute to events downtown, at City Park or Fairgrounds Park. They show support through action. Their efforts provide increased profits to investors/developers and cost savings to the city. Concerned citizens strengthen revitalization efforts.

Amy Gillette
Hagerstown

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