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City eyes elections referendum

February 03, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- The Hagerstown City Council is considering a proposal that would let voters decide whether to change the dates in which municipal elections are held.

The council directed city staff on Tuesday to investigate the feasibility of the proposal. If election officials give their approval, the issue would be placed on the ballot during the general election in May.

As it stands, the municipal primary and general elections are held in March and May. The proposal would ask voters to consider changing the elections to coincide with presidential ones.

If the change occurs, the next mayor and council would serve about 3 1/2 years instead of four because they would be sworn in after the general election this May and stay in office until sometime around the presidential election in 2012. The specific dates of each term were not discussed.

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Last week, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner stormed out of a council work session after Paul Muldowney, a member of the City Elections Board, told the council that their decision making was "poor, insincere, disingenuous and short-sighted" for refusing to change the elections.

Muldowney defended his accusations, saying the council could save taxpayers about $125,000 if the municipal elections were changed to coincide with the gubernatorial or presidential ones. By doing so, the state, rather than the city, would pay a majority of the cost, he said.

In addition, Muldowney said the council was self-serving because incumbents have a better chance of winning re-election in the spring when voter turnout is low.

During last week's discussion, Metzner said the city shouldn't change the elections because two City Charter Review Committees - one in 1981 and the other in 2008 - determined that the elections should stay the same.

Metzner successfully moved to adjourn the meeting rather than listen to Muldowney's criticism.

On Tuesday, Metzner said the council chose to let the electorate decide the issue because "it needs to be put to rest and not thrown around like a political football."

"If citizens vote to change the date, then we'll change it," Metzner said.

He said negative publicity the council received on the issue over the last week had nothing to do with the council's decision.

After Tuesday's work session, Muldowney said he was pleased that the council changed its mind.

"It solves all of the city's (election) problems," he said. "I think it's a good thing."

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