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County drops ball on giving money to baseball teams

August 24, 2009

When the Washington County Commissioners agreed a year ago to spend $10,000 on travel expenses for the families of Federal Little League players, Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire warned this particular worm-can opening might come back to bite the board.

Good call. Perhaps the commissioners as a whole never dreamed Washington County might sport two winners in as many years, but sure enough, the Conococheague Little League team advanced this month to play in the Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament in Bristol, Conn. Naturally, the families of Conococheague players were interested in the same consideration the county gave Federal the year before. Aleshire, who had missed the vote a year ago, was present this year, while Commissioner James F. Kercheval, who suggested last year's donation, was absent. Conococheague's request never made it to a vote.

While we have reservations about the wisdom of spending public money on hotel rooms for private families, our greater concern (and the greater lesson) is one of consistency.

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The first rule of public policy is to have one, and last year the county -- caught up, as we all were, with the local boys' winning streak -- allowed the warm-and-fuzzies to take precedence over sound financial management.

Naturally, this is an area with more gray areas than a Seattle skyline: What about winners in the Hagerstown PONY League or in other sports? What about young winners of musical or academic competitions? Establishing a policy to cover all contingencies is impossible, but the commissioners should at least take a stab at it.

The problem with deciding these situations on a case-by-case basis is obvious, especially in a county with a history of slights, real or imagined, against one particular town or neighborhood. Specifically, no one with a sense of the county can overlook the fact the families from the (more connected) North End received favors, while the families from (less connected) Conococheague did not.

The Conococheague players might be excused if the lesson they take from this is it's not how well you play, it's whether or not you know the players.

Certainly, the county has options. It might decide no public money should be awarded in these situations. It might establish a pool of funds used to reward youth excellence across all disciplines. Within reason, whatever the commissioners decide would be fine with us.

But the decision needs to be applied fairly and consistently. Both Federal and Conococheague brought pride to this community and both deserved to be treated equally. The commissioners, pardon the phrase, need to level the playing field before this becomes an issue again.

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