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Attending to business, seeking memories and charter

February 20, 2008|By BOB MAGINNIS

Odds and ends from a columnist's notebook:

Whatever else it means, the unexpected resignation of Del. Bob McKee from the Maryland General Assembly and his job at Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Washington County must be hitting state Sen. Don Munson like a punch in the gut.

When McKee ran against former County Commissioner Richard Roulette for the District 2A delegate in the mid- 1990s, Munson went door-to-door with McKee to visit an estimated 6,500 homes.

More recently, Munson and McKee sent a joint newsletter to constituents, which I speculated meant that Munson was grooming McKee to take over his senate seat at some future date.

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If that was the plan, it's defunct now. And with Del. John Donoghue, D-Washington, making the point that in a legislature controlled by Democrats, he's sometimes the only local member who can get things done, the Republican Central Committee will have to appoint a strong replacement for McKee, or face the prospect of losing the seat to a Democrat the next time around.

And speaking of Donoghue, on Feb. 15, The Herald-Mail published his letter, in which he said his longstanding relationships with people in Hagerstown make it unnecessary to attend every delegation meeting in Annapolis.

Though local officials, such as the Washington County Commissioners, attend such meetings to push for local law changes, Donoghue said he does not "consider it my role to micromanage local government."

However, the letter also says he considers it his "duty to understand Hagerstown's needs and provide for them when I go to Annapolis."

Well, what Hagerstown needs is to obtain some revenue that is not generated through an increase in the property tax.

On Tuesday, Feb. 5, the county commissioners expressed a willingness to redistribute $300,000 in the county's hotel/motel tax to municipalities. But the enabling legislation for that law was passed in 1999 and although 40 percent of the hotels are within the city limits, it's taken years to get the commissioners to even consider sharing some of the receipts.

For longer than that, the county has been using general fund revenue - much of it generated by city taxpayers - to subsidize some sewer rates.

Hagerstown Councilman Lew Metzner told me previously that the subject had been ruled "off limits" in the city and county's 2-plus-2 meetings. A little pressure from the delegation might be able to get a real negotiation going.

Donoghue might assume that he's weathered the storm over his attendance at meetings - and he did show up at this session's last delegation meeting.

But next time he won't have the good fortune of running against Paul Muldowney, whose detractors apparently outnumber his supporters. Facing a bright young Chris Shank type of candidate would be a tougher race than Donoghue has faced recently.

Christopher Shane Nicholson, the Smithsburg police officer recently killed in the line of duty, had to overcome a heart defect while still a small child.

Paul and Karen Highbarger, Christopher's mother and stepfather, recently sent me a clipping about the child's illness published on Dec. 29, 1982. I didn't remember the story, but it had my byline on it.

Maybe there's something you've almost forgotten about the young officer. Perhaps it's something from youth sports or from school.

If you can share, the family would to like to add it to the memorial they're preparing for Christopher.

Please send whatever you can to: Paul Highbarger, 17507 Lexington Ave., Hagerstown, MD 21740.

Why was home rule charter defeated by a 2-to-1 margin? Because its supporters were commited to reasonable discourse, as opposed to the emotional appeals used by many.

Of course, passing charter might have increased the possibility that government would become bigger and cost more.

But then again, a previous board of commissioners ran up a big sewer debt without a charter. The only real guarantee of good government is to elect good people.

What puzzles me is that passing the charter, even in what opponents considered its flawed form, would have given them a lever with which to trim government through charter amendments.

Given the public's outrage over rising property assessments, it wouldn't be hard to gather signatures to, for example, cut out entire county departments. Did charter's foes lose the opportunity to trim government because they failed to foresee how they might use the document to their advantage?

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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