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From bad to worse

Columnist Tim Rowland takes a month-by-month look at 2007

Columnist Tim Rowland takes a month-by-month look at 2007

December 30, 2007|By TIM ROWLAND

Washington County Board of Education member Ruth Anne Callaham greeted the year 2007 by saying she had concerns for world peace.

Boy, was she right.

Sen. Don Munson went into the year 2007 saying, "The future is not looking too bright."

Boy, was he right.

In Smithsburg, medics began the year 2007 by issuing a response report stating that 134 people had "trouble breathing."

Boy, were they right. Because in ...

January

At South High, local lawmakers continued their annual tradition of hearing citizen requests just prior to the start of the Maryland General Assembly's 90-day session. The tradition does not include actually doing anything about the requests, but they do hear them.

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One gentleman went to far as to request that the state start using more solar energy. After everyone stopped laughing, the meeting broke up and Del. Chris Shank called it "democracy in action."

In Department of School Statistics news, it was reported that Washington County ranks next to last in the amount of money spent per pupil, but still performs in the top 25 percent academically.

This encouraged Washington County citizens to suggest that, in the name of increasing school performance even more, the county should start spending even less.

If all this confusing talk of school statistics made you sick, you couldn't expect to find much relief at Washington County Hospital, where administrators said overcrowded conditions were forcing them to send patients to other hospitals in the region and emergency room patients were reporting waits of up to 10 hours.

Even though the proposed hospital will have even fewer beds, officials say crowding will not be a problem because the beds are more "efficient."

This is because the new efficient beds are actually "ejector beds," which will detect when a patient has been in them for more than two days and correspondingly catapult the patient out the window to make room for the next one.

This news didn't alarm anyone because Washington County residents were preoccupied with the much-anticipated, cataclysmic, front-page news that a new Olive Garden restaurant was scheduled to open at Valley Mall - news that appeared to strike most Hagerstown citizens as a potentially life-changing event.

Even the man who wanted the state to adopt solar energy went back to the delegation, saying that - after thinking it over - Olive Garden clearly was a greater priority.

But not as great a priority, obviously, as the safety of our schoolchildren, so it was with much interest that the parents listened to the school board's preliminary plan to increase security in the county's schools.

Administrators said they balanced security needs against local, community values and came up with a plan under which visitors would not be allowed in the schools if they are carrying more than three guns.

Meanwhile, the Hagerstown City Council was wrestling with weighty issues of its own, particularly whether to remove with a Power Washer a large downtown mural depicting the city's history. Councilman Martin Brubaker worried that power washing would leave a "scrubbed" appearance, leading to the unfortunate conclusion that it would stand out because it would be the only clean wall in the city.

With all this going on, you might think that February could not possibly be worse ...

February

... But it was.

In the face of spiraling electricity costs caused by deregulation, Allegheny Energy helpfully tells its customers they can avoid "sticker shock" - by paying their bills a year and a half in advance. This gives the cell phone industry a good idea, and Verizon announces that new parents can start paying now for the text-messaging charges their children will rack up when they are teenagers.

Money also was a problem for the Washington County Commissioners, who announced they might sue after a "consultant's mistake" cost taxpayers $1 million at the county landfill.

If the landfill issue winds up in court, it will have to wait for the resolution of legal issues involving the proposed new hospital, after a plaintiff who was suing to keep the hospital from being built on Robinwood Drive sues his co-plaintiffs for failure to pay legal fees. The hospital immediately issued a public statement, saying, "Boy, are we confused."

These community spats might come to a quicker resolution if the county had home rule, and with that in mind, a group of local residents form a Home Rule Charter Board to draw up plans for a new form of government. But the group gets off to a troubling start when it asks the County Commissioners to help by hiring them a consultant.

The consultant theme continued, when a consultant for a Colorado-based company told the commissioners that area farmers would be able to grow enough ordinary soybeans to supply a proposed biodiesel fuel plant.

Meanwhile, fresh off its conquest of scofflaw murals, the City Council draws up an ordinance to banish "vicious animals" from the city.

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