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Local officials mixed on value of meetings with lawmakers

December 01, 2007|By ANDREW SHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY

When local government bodies need to talk to their state representatives, face-to-face meetings are preferred, most elected officials surveyed last week said.

The officials were interviewed after Del. John P. Donoghue questioned the necessity of annual meetings on local officials' legislative priorities.

Donoghue, D-Washington, skipped a meeting with the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday. Afterward, he said he didn't feel the need to be there. He called annual meetings with local officials before the Maryland General Assembly's regular sessions "not a productive use of time."

Donoghue said he had a copy of the county's written legislative priorities and he already had a good sense of the City of Hagerstown's wishes.

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He said that among Washington County's eight-member delegation, he was the only one who "voted to protect Washington County" by approving Gov. Martin O'Malley's tax-and-slots package during a recent General Assembly special session, averting possible deep cuts.

Some of the seven Republicans in the delegation challenged Donoghue's characterization of both the special session and the meetings with local officials after they attended Tuesday's session with the county.

Four delegation Republicans went to Friday's meeting with Hagerstown Community College's board of trustees. Again, Donoghue was absent.

"It would be nice if everyone would attend," said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

"Local officials shouldn't wait for people to come to them," said Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington. "We should get out in the public .... These are our constituents."

"Even if I learn a tidbit, I think they're very important," said Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, declined to comment about Donoghue's attendance at local meetings.

"He is my delegate," Munson said. "I'm not going to get into that."

Besides Tuesday's meeting with the county and Friday's meeting at HCC, the delegation met with the Washington County Board of Education in October.

State lawmakers are scheduled to meet with Hagerstown's mayor and city council this month.

Many local officials said during the last several days that it's important to discuss legislative concerns directly with the lawmakers who represent them.

Commissioners President John F. Barr, a Republican, spoke the most pointedly against Donoghue's approach.

"I was disappointed that he blew us off like he did," Barr said.

He called the county's talk with the delegation "very crucial," a sign of "mutual respect" and a chance for a productive discussion.

Hagerstown Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh spoke the most strongly in defense of Donoghue, who represents an area with roughly the same boundaries as the city.

City leaders have no trouble reaching Donoghue, which is an important aspect of representation, Nigh said.

"If we need to get John, we can get John," she said.

"I think that he needs to make his own judgment on what's useful ...," said Councilman Martin Brubaker, a Democrat. "I can reach him when I need to."

In past years, when the city has met with the delegation, Nigh said, "I honestly don't know if we've accomplished anything or not."

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner, a Democrat, described meetings with the delegation as little more than "feel-good" sessions.

Nigh said she believes the delegation treats the city as a "stepchild," less important than the county.

The ideal situation, Washington County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said, would be to have the city, the county and the delegation meet and work together on a legislative package

Aleshire, a Democrat and former city councilman, said he found Donoghue's comments "a bit defensive."

Aleshire said he'd expect a state representative who had just voted in favor of "significant increases" during the special session "would want to come and share that sort of opposing viewpoint."

Commissioner William J. Wivell, a Republican, said it's "fairly important" for the county and delegation to speak directly about legislative issues. He said he understood Donoghue's point about meetings sometimes having little value, but Tuesday's wasn't one of them.

Some finer points of the county's excise tax request, in particular, were smoothed out.

"He won't know that just by reading the booklet (of legislative requests)," Wivell said.

Commissioner Terry Baker, a Republican, said the meeting was productive, but he thinks Donoghue can call any of the commissioners if he has questions about what he missed.

Some delegation members attended the October meeting with the Washington County Board of Education. Others, including Donoghue, sent a representative.

All seven members of the Washington County Board of Education, a nonpartisan body, said last week that the meeting with the delegation was worthwhile.

"They heard what we had to say, and what more can you ask?" said Wayne D. Ridenour, the board's vice president.

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