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Group talks tough on courthouse plan

July 16, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH

SCOTLAND, Pa. -- Questions about a Franklin County courthouse construction project and criticism of the county commissioners abounded Thursday evening during a meeting hosted by taxpayer group Citizens for Responsible Government.

CRG hosted Bernard Washabaugh II, a Chambersburg developer, and Larry Lahr, a Chambersburg business owner, as speakers during the meeting. Washabaugh has developed alternative proposals to judicial center recommendations made by a county consultant, and Lahr has supported ideas that would keep courthouse functions in Chambersburg's downtown core.

About 35 people, none of whom spoke up as representating the county, attended the meeting held at Mount Pleasant Church on Black Gap Road.

"Downtown is a reflection of the broader community," Washabaugh said when talking about his North Main Street proposal.

Lahr said he fears what would happen if the commissioners chose to follow consultant Carter Goble Lee's recommendation to build on North Second Street.

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"What happens is you create a void (downtown) and that void is filled by the path of least resistance," he said, saying undesirable entities could become plentiful.

Washabaugh called for the public to support starting an independent panel that would review courthouse needs and options.

"Let's hear all the options. Let's hear them," he said. "Why not?"

"There really are legitimate alternatives out there," Lahr said.

Cost estimates for the new courthouse vary, but all are in the $50 million range.

The commissioners say they need an expanded courthouse to address overcrowding and safety. The county added a fifth judge this year.

People in attendance at the CRG meeting criticized the commissioners for things like not meeting in the evenings, not announcing meetings with enough notice, telling the consultant up front what outcome they wanted, dodging questions and making decisions without deliberation.

"I've never seen people operate like this. This makes me sick," Washabaugh's father, Bernard, said.

The commissioners have responded to similar criticism several times in recent weeks. They've said their evening "Vision 2020" meetings have been sparsely attended and regular meeting agendas are posted online. They've said they're available for phone calls, e-mails and office visits. They've said dozens of stories about the courthouse project have been reported in the media.

"I know these guys and want to believe they want to make the right decision," the younger Washabaugh said.

He said he just wants more give-and-take in discussions about each proposal.

Washabaugh will be hosting another meeting. He and Downtown Chambersburg Inc. President Paul Cullinane will be speaking at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the Chambersburg Recreation Center.

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