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County leadership drags baseball stadium debate into extra innings

February 20, 2012
  • Tim Rowland
Tim Rowland

Leadership, Washington County, Md., style:

A decade ago, the Washington County legislative delegation approves funding for a new minor league baseball stadium on the condition that the funding not be spent on a new minor league baseball stadium.

Or it could, but only if specific benchmarks were met, including the involvement of the Maryland Stadium authority; an adaptability of the stadium for lacrosse; and a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The law said that the county must raise money for a stadium by spending money on sewers. As such, the delegation says it hopes it has made it VERY CLEAR that it does NOT in ANY WAY support construction of a new stadium; it is only supporting money for a new stadium.

The County Commissioners, on the other hand, say they support construction of a new stadium, but not the money to pay for a new stadium.

So they visit community bulletin boards, posting 3-by-5-inch cards that say “Wanted, Free Stadium. Call Wash. Co. Commissioners office.”

When no free stadiums materialize, the County Commissioners are forced to take the money that is being set aside for a new stadium and spend it on the Economic Development Commission.

They say they do not support the expenditure of public money on private businesses. After they have made this abundantly clear, they spend thousands on thousands of public tax dollars in the form of tax breaks awarded to a number of private businesses.

But they do not support public money for private business people, they want to make that clear.

Nor do they support the use of public money for cheap entertainment. Instead, they spend the stadium money that did not go to the EDC on parades, fireworks displays, Christmas pageants and an edible bouquet for anyone who might in the future consider voting for them.

The City of Hagerstown, meanwhile, peddles ideas for a new stadium at the intersection of Maugans Avenue and Interstate 81; the intersection of Salem Avenue and I-81; the old Potomac Edison site; the existing stadium site; and the polar regions of Neptune’s fifth moon.

These initiatives all fail through the years, and finally the Hagerstown Suns announce they have had enough and are moving to Winchester, Va.

As a matter of fact, a copy of a Memorandum of Understanding between the baseball team and the Winchester, Va., government is printed in the newspaper. After months of rumor and innuendo, the county commissioners finally have the proof they need and leap into action, voting 3-2 to hire a consultant to study the situation.

Two commissioners in opposition believe this action is too hasty, and instead support a study of whether or not an actual study should be undertaken, in which a “stadium planning group” would be formed with one member appointed by each commissioner. One of the commissioners goes retro, saying he supports the stadium, but not paying for the stadium.

So this study of a New Stadium in Hagerstown, Md., is likely to be completed as the Suns are enjoying their second season in Winchester, and sailing along with a record of 23-19. But this study will give us a clear direction of where to go in order to save the team that no longer exists.

Some might point out that if local governments had saved the money they had approved for a stadium instead of spending it on other things, today they could come very close to paying for a new stadium in cash.

But as one local lawmaker was quoted as saying recently, a dozen years ago, the thinking of elected office holders “had not quite matured.”

He can say that again.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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