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Del. Donoghue skipping talks with Washington County officials

November 28, 2007|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Del. John P. Donoghue is skipping meetings between local government bodies and Washington County's state lawmakers, saying he doesn't need them to effectively do his job.

Donoghue's absence from a meeting with the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday sparked a debate about the value of face-to-face meetings and a broader argument about the Maryland General Assembly's recent special session.

Each year, the county's General Assembly delegation meets with local elected officials to hear their priorities for the upcoming legislative session.

On Tuesday, five of the delegation's eight members spent time with the commissioners and other county officials.

Donoghue, the delegation's only Democrat, was not there.

Contacted later, Donoghue said, "I did not feel the need to attend because I'm the only one in the delegation that voted to protect Washington County."

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Donoghue was referring to a revenue-and-slots package put forward by Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley to close a state budget deficit estimated at $1.5 billion.

The Democratically controlled House of Delegates and Senate backed the plan, while the GOP minority objected to its various tax increases. Much of it passed, with some changes.

Del. Christopher B. Shank and Del. Robert A. McKee, who went to Tuesday's meeting and called it useful, disputed Donoghue's characterization of the special session.

"Del. Donoghue voted for the largest tax increase in Maryland's history," said Shank, R-Washington. "I hardly see how that is protecting our interests in Annapolis."

McKee, R-Washington, said he didn't hear from any county residents who wanted a tax increase.

Donoghue dismissed the criticism as "disingenuous." He said the state's deficit was "very real" and pointed to a potential "doomsday" budget that called for significant cuts in Washington County and elsewhere.

The delegation met with the Washington County Board of Education in October. Meetings with Hagerstown Community College's board of trustees and Hagerstown's mayor and city council have been scheduled.

Donoghue said the meetings are "not a productive use of time."

He said he already has a good sense of the city's legislative interests and encouraged city officials to call him if they want to talk further.

"People can have all the meetings in the world they want," he said. "I did my job."

Shank, though, said local governments expect direct conversations with state lawmakers.

Tuesday's meeting included "back-and-forth" discussion about points that otherwise would have been unclear, McKee said. "To me, that's all part of this process," he said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, and Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, also attended Tuesday's meeting.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, and Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, were absent.

Hagerstown Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, a Democrat, said the city's annual meetings with the delegation generally are little more than "feel-good" sessions.

He said he's more interested in open communication.

"If I ever need to talk to John Donoghue, he's never more than a phone call away," he said.

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