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Hagerstown council rejects nonpartisan municipal elections

October 16, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- It doesn't look like the City Council will accept the Hagerstown Charter Review Committee's proposal to hold nonpartisan municipal elections.

During a Tuesday work session, the five members of the council took a preliminary vote and rejected the proposal 4-1.

Only Councilman Lewis C. Metzner voted to support nonpartisan elections.

The Hagerstown Charter Review Committee was formed in the spring of 2007 primarily to examine the policy that the city uses to replace elected officials who resign, committee member Doug Wright said in July.

While researching that issue, the committee suggested a few other election changes, including shifting the month that the municipal primary elections are held from March to September, and the month that the municipal general elections are held from May to November.

Wright has said changing the dates of the election would help election officials. However, the council previously agreed to reject that proposal as well.

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Metzner said he didn't support moving the elections because two past councils reviewed the charter - most recently in 1981 - and concluded that the elections were being held at the appropriate times.

If adopted, the committee's proposal on nonpartisan elections would allow the top 10 vote-getters in the primary - regardless of party affiliation - to advance to the general election. The five candidates who get the most votes during the general election would move on to the council.

Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II, who isn't authorized to vote on the issue, said he supported nonpartisan elections.

Bruchey said politicians at the state and federal levels commonly adhere to party affiliation, but the issues that face the city are more cut and dried.

"You can't play partisan politics at this level," Bruchey said. "There's no place for it."

Councilwomen Penny M. Nigh and Alesia D. Parson-McBean said they thought the elections should remain partisan because people often vote along party lines.

"I think to say it really doesn't matter at this level is untrue," Parson-McBean said.

Councilman Martin E. Brubaker said he felt the municipal elections should remain partisan, in part because an "enormous" amount of money is spent to support partisan politics at the local level.

The council also discussed the period of time that the city gives tax breaks to new businesses to promote economic growth.

Bruchey said the city might want to consider expanding the limit to more than five years if the business provides well-paying jobs.

The council agreed to discuss the issue further.

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