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There's no shame in rewarding kids' success with funding

August 10, 2008|By TIM ROWLAND

There's a book by Malcom Gladwell called "Blink" that, in a nutshell, argues that a snap decision can often be more accurate than one achieved through painstaking thought and analysis.

The brain is hardwired to instantly draw on vast amounts of experience - consciously or subconsciously accumulated - and render a verdict that is often superior to the process of what we frequently call "overthinking."

It's not infallible, to be sure, but "Blink" demonstrates rather impressively that there are indeed, so to speak, some books that can be judged by the cover.

When the Washington County Commissioners were called upon to make something of a snap decision - should the state champion Hagerstown Federal Little League be awarded $10,000 in taxpayer dollars to cover the costs of their championship run - they voted 3-1 in the affirmative.

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It was only after a few days of "further review," and the predictable angry calls of "How dare you spend my hard-earned tax dollars on anything that doesn't specifically benefit me," that they began to second guess.

Commissioner Bill Wivell was the sole "no" vote, stating that such a payment would set a bad precedent. And, pray, what precedent would that be? That in Washington County success is rewarded?

No, wouldn't want to go there. Young people may get the idea that if they do well, the community will be pleased with them.

And were the vote held again today, the chances are that Wivell would be in the majority, not minority.

"Sometimes in life, you make decisions that you realize later might not have been the best ones," said Commissioners President John Barr.

True enough, I suppose, but it seems like too heavy an argument for the circumstances. That's one you save for poor life choices, like deciding to major in journalism, or waking up with Broom Hilda after staying too late at the bar.

All we're talking about here is helping out some deserving kids.

Commissioner Terry Baker likewise regretted his vote, saying he thought the money was to pay for the team's upcoming round of playoffs, not the playoffs just completed. Of course the proper response to this argument is:

Huh?

Somehow the difference between the two, or more accurately why it matters, evades me. That's like telling the waiter, "Hey, I thought this $20 gift card was going toward dinner, not dessert."

Wivell further explained that, "I think $10,000 is a lot of money just to give to a Little League team."

No offense, but this argument is so Hagerstown. We whine that there's nothing for our kids to do and kvetch when they spend their time cruising the Dual and vandalizing mailboxes - yet when they take initiative to make something of themselves and succeed, we show them no support whatsoever.

"Just" a Little League team? That's a hell of a lot better use of our taxpayer dollars than "just a juvenile detention center." All these people who are complaining ought to be provided a tour of juvie and the jail and the prisons so they can see where their tax dollars really go when, where kids are concerned, they try to get by on the cheap. Ten grand is enough to keep one person locked up for about four months.

Commissioner Kristin Aleshire (who was out of the room when the vote was taken) wisely says he's reserving judgment for the time being, although to his mind it's not a terribly big deal - and things would have been fine if he'd stopped there. But Aleshire, who makes Sir Humphrey Appleby sound like Clint Eastwood, never does.

He went on to say that the commissioners need to adopt a "consistent policy" for funding requests such as this one, which would be fair enough if it were possible.

What policy could have anticipated that the Hagerstown Federals would have stormed through the state and, to date, regional playoffs? What policy could anticipate other deserving candidates, such as musical prodigies or science fair winners?

Maybe funding requests could be like guns; no approval without a three-day, cooling-off period.

The thing is, I basically trust our County Commissioners to make good decisions on the disparate funding requests that come their way. They are professional, responsible people whose job it is to stand up and do so, without having to flee to the cover of some "consistent policy" to escape voter fallout.

You won't always agree with them. I won't always agree with them; in fact, I reserve the right to make fun of them when I don't. But I would hate to think that anything you or I might say would scare them off from funding a legitimate request, next time one comes along.

Barr and Co. should not be apologizing for this vote; they should be proud of it. They helped out some kids who stepped up and achieved. Good for them. In this case, they got it right the first time.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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