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Maryland Municipal League conference called 'education'

November 18, 2007|By DAN DEARTH

The City of Hagerstown spent $8,847.84 to send the mayor, three City Council members and two staff members to the annual Maryland Municipal League conference in June in Ocean City, Md.

Some other municipalities, such as Clear Spring and Smithsburg, didn't send anyone.

Clear Spring Mayor Paul D. Hose Jr. said he didn't go because he doesn't like to miss work. In addition, "It's a little expensive," he said of lodging costs and the $385 registration fee.

Smithsburg Town Clerk Betsy Martin said cost hasn't been an issue.

"We never had anybody interested in going," she said. "It's just a busy time of the year with taxes."

The Town of Williamsport's mayor, four council members and the town clerk attended the convention at a cost of $6,846.92, Town Clerk James Castle said.

Williamsport Mayor James G. McCleaf II said it was worth spending the money, especially since town officials landed roughly $25,000 in state grants through contacts they made at the conference.

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The MML holds its conference in the summer, when room prices are higher than in the off-season.

Hagerstown paid $2,978.97 for the three council members' rooms for this summer's MML convention.

Hagerstown City Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer's room at a Hilton hotel was the most expensive at $467.21 for the first night of her stay and $445.83 for each of the next two nights, according to city records.

Cromer said city personnel booked the room for her. To offset the cost of her room, she said, she paid for her own gas and some of her meals, among other things.

Cromer questioned the logic of holding the MML conference in Ocean City during the vacation season when rooms cost more. She said the site of the conference doesn't really matter since participants attend seminars for most of the day and don't have time to enjoy the surroundings.

Karen A. Bohlen, assistant executive director of the Maryland Municipal League, said the conference is held in June because MML focuses its attention on the General Assembly while it is in session. The 2008 session will run from Jan. 9 through April 7.

Another reason for the scheduling is to accommodate municipalities that hold their local elections in March, April and May, she said.

The MML conference is held, in part, to update municipal officials about new laws that state lawmakers passed during the session, she said.

In addition, about two dozen cabinet secretaries are available to meet individually with city and town leaders to discuss issues. Those discussions are designed to help local officials govern more effectively, Bohlen said.

Bohlen said the conference is held in Ocean City because its Roland E. Powell Convention Center, and the Baltimore Convention Center, are the only ones in the state large enough to accommodate the MML conference.

For instance, MML requires about 1,000 hotel rooms for three nights, 40,000 square feet of exhibit space and a meeting room that seats 800 people for dinner, she said.

"Ocean City's convention center can accommodate all of these requirements, plus the facility offers adequate, free on-site parking," Bohlen said. "The Baltimore Convention Center and hotels charge more than Ocean City, plus it is typical to pay approximately $20 (per) day for parking in addition to the cost of a hotel room."

She said no one has complained about the cost of attending the conference.

"MML is sensitive to the budgets of all municipalities and, in an effort to make the Maryland Municipal League convention available to those town officials who cannot afford the costs, MML initiated a training program several years ago," Bohlen said.

As a part of that program, MML invites cities and towns whose members have not attended the conference for two years to apply for training grants, which pay for the registration fee and the cost of a hotel room for three nights, she said. Last year, all 13 municipalities that applied for the grant received assistance.

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