Metzner right to open up stadium discussion

April 15, 2012|By TIM ROWLAND |

Hagerstown Councilman Lewis Metzner is right about this: It is impossible to build public support for a public project when the details of the project are negotiated in secret.

“To me, the biggest impact on this (Municipal Stadium) project is the failure to get strong public support, and I think the biggest reason we can’t get strong public support is we don’t discuss it in public,” Metzner said.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

The stadium has always been a top-down proposal. Plans, locations and costs are treated with Masonic confidentiality and then foisted on a dubious public that was never asked to be part of the discussion.

To be sure, there is a reason for this, if not a particularly good one. There are certain elements in this community that will loudly shoot down any attempt at progress, and ridicule whichever community leader was unfortunate enough to bring it up.

This is the person who wants his own neighborhood to be policed, wants his own road to be freshly paved and wants his own Social Security to be there in total when he retires — but opposes any expenditure of public money that does not directly benefit himself.

These were the boys and girls who never got the message from their parents that selfishness is not a becoming human trait.

This element is in the minority, but our local office holders never treat them as such — probably due to the disproportionate about of noise they generate. So yes, it’s somewhat understandable that local leaders might want to act in secret for fear of inciting a small tsunami of blind rage.

It would be a service if some pol would tell these people to pipe down long enough to hear what the majority has to say.

The majority, too, has concerns about a stadium and its affordability. The majority might very well hear all the facts and conclude that a new stadium is a bad idea, and that professional baseball is either unwanted here, or a luxury that we cannot afford.

But unlike the noisy few, the majority will at least be willing to listen. And that’s why Metzner’s remarks are key. The majority cannot listen if no one at City Hall is telling them anything.

Rather that meet in secret and hide behind executive sessions, the city should be out in the neighborhoods, holding public meetings and asking the people what might convince them that a new stadium is a good idea. What events would they like to see there? Where should it be?

The city should be out talking to parents, the ones who fret that there is nothing healthy for their children to do in Hagerstown. No doubt some stadium opponents and undecideds, if not most, have never been to a game. The city should be in the business of joining the Suns in recruiting fans.

But the city should also understand that the majority knows when it is being sold a bill of goods. It is a hindrance, not a help, when the stadium is peddled in the name of downtown revival and economic development. First, it’s not. And second, that’s not  its job.

When the county spent $800,000 to attract a financial data center here, no one asked if the 17 people it would employ were going to be good softball players in the county rec league. No one asked how many tourists would come from out of state to check out the plant’s massive climate-control infrastructure.

And this whole fuss about how the stadium will generate more economic activity downtown, but it comes at the expense of areas outside the city? Am I hearing that right?

So it’s OK for a home-improvement store to plop down in the midst of suburban sprawl and run all the little city hardware stores out of business — but a stadium taking business away from the suburbs would be unfair? Good grief.

The stadium is what it is: An entertainment venue that will generate some tourism and commerce among those it entertains. Tax dollars will be used to subsidize the interests of team owners, just as every tax dollar that has been spent since the founding of this country has benefited some private business person or another. Just like many things that are supported by government, a stadium benefits a relative few, at least specifically.

In general, however, a professional baseball team is a patch in the community’s quilt. Sports venues stand with museums, parks, libraries, theaters and a host of other “frivolous projects” that in short make life worth living.

That’s how the city should be selling this project. Just tell the truth, openly, and let the cards fall where they may.

Some people can make do with a couch, a fridge and a television set. More power to them. But for the rest of us, that’s not enough. For us, life holds more interest and is greatly augmented by government-backed projects that transcend the basic services of police, roads, schools and whatnot.

It’s your right to disagree. Maybe the majority in Hagerstown disagree, and then again maybe they don’t. But the city will never know unless it lets them become invested in the process.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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