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2012 Year in Review

December 29, 2012|By TIM ROWLAND

The year 2012 begins in splendid fashion in Washington County, as thousands of people line up to sign a petition that would make this our Best Year Ever. The only caveat is that this proposition would have to be approved by Maryland voters, although organizers do not see this as too much of an obstacle.

Making this year extra special will be the 150th anniversary of pretty much every noteworthy historical thing to ever happen in Washington County, beginning on Jan. 4 with the Bombardment of Hancock, in which Union and Confederate soldiers fought each other to the death over where to put a new library.

Bombs fall in Hagerstown as well, when a “secret meeting” is held at Fountain Head Country Club, a gathering of elite community leaders called to discuss a proposed increase in the state’s gasoline tax. No compromise is reached, but members of the group do sign a petition asking that the North End be allowed to secede from Washington County.

This joins a growing list of statewide petitions brought by Del. Neil Parrott to fight against gay marriage, in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants, 6th District gerrymandering and ESPN’s decision to discontinue Hank Williams Jr.’s rendition of “Are You Ready For Some Football.”

In other political news, U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett develops a dry cough, leading every registered Republican in four states to suffer second-degree concussions as they slam into each other in a rush to run for his seat. But Bartlett’s career isn’t the only thing in ruins, as the former Washington County hospital is demolished and FirstEnergy announces plans to abandon the old R. Paul Smith generating plant in Williamsport.

Taking their place, however, will be new and exciting ideas for Washington County, including a new baseball stadium in downtown Hagerstown, a sparkling new senior center and a bicycle trail that will become a signature tourism attraction in South County. Bracing for the applause they will receive for these innovative ideas, local politicians hold a secret meeting at Fountain Head to divide up the credit.

There is credit to be taken for recycling as well because after years of wrangling over the issue, Washington County proudly announces a new program designed to encourage recycling by asking people to pay extra for the service instead of being able to drop recycling off in their neighborhoods for free.


Alley news

But not all was fun and games for local government, as the Hagerstown City Council gets down to the serious business of naming City Alley 5-30 and 5-32 after veteran WHAG weatherman Lou Scally. On air that night, Scally repays the compliment by naming a tropical disturbance after Councilman Martin Brubaker.

More disturbance is at hand when more than 100 shoppers waiting in line for a pair of Nike sneakers turn into an unruly mob at Valley Mall. Order is not restored until the riot is quelled by a countermob of seniors in line for name-brand support hose.

In further alley news, the Hagerstown City Council boldly votes to change the name of Gerber’s Alley to Gerbers Avenue. Potomac Avenue immediately starts a petition drive, urging state voters to prevent undocumented alleys from gaining mainstream acceptance.

Gerber’s Alley/Avenue gets the last laugh, however, when South Potomac Street is shut down as police break up two deer that are holding a secret meeting at the Washington County Free Library construction site. Fortunately, no one is injured, but the episode causes mild embarrassment for the Washington County school board when the deer place higher than county fifth-graders in a Maryland state reading assessment.

But a bigger story arises in Hagerstown at the annual State of the City address, during which Mayor Robert Bruchey announces plans for a new baseball stadium in the downtown at the corner of Summit Avenue and Baltimore Street, and saying “unlike the 1,487 stadium announcements that have come before it, this time we mean it.”

“I want something downtown,” Bruchey continued. “I don’t care if it’s soccer. I don’t care if it’s baseball. I don’t care if it’s pro wrestling. I don’t care if it’s cage fights. I don’t care if it’s concerts — as long as something is happening that creates excitement in our core. ... You’re going to see those businesses crop up.”

And it is funny that he should have mentioned cage fights, since this is an election year that will pit pro- and anti-stadium forces against each other. City council members stake their jobs on the notion that Hagerstown is finally ready for progress. In other City Hall news, council members agree that this is the year to buy some beachfront property on the Jersey shore.

Hopes for progress in Washington County soar even more, as administrators unveil plans for an exciting new rail trail that would connect the city of Hagerstown to the Potomac River by way of an old South County rail bed. Full of optimism, the commissioners say they feel sure that county residents will support this worthy project. The meeting is then adjourned, at which point the commissioners retreat to their private offices and enthusiastically answer Nigerian emails promising untold wealth.

In other recreational news, a “renaissance sporting group” that is “dedicated to the recreation of the Sword and Sorcery genre as well as educational aspects of both Medieval and Ancient cultures,” asks the Funkstown Town Council for permission to do battle in the community park using swords made of foam-wrapped plastic pipe. After a brief discussion, the council declares war on Middle Earth.

After refusing to take any action during the just-ended legislative session in Annapolis, local lawmakers return to town and refuse to meet with the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber holds its post-legislative forum anyway, even though lawmakers’ chairs remain empty. This shameful display of disrespectful sarcasm is hailed as “a stroke of genius” by Hollywood actor Clint Eastwood.

A study in development

In other gatherings, the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission holds a grand banquet celebrating its multiple successes over the past year, after which EDC Executive Director Tim Troxell is fired and replaced with a Post-It note that asks prospective businesses to be patient for the next five or six years while the county gets its act together.

But at least there’s progress on the stadium, after Gov. Martin O’Malley and Comptroller Peter Franchot, in separate visits to Washington County, say that a stadium deal will succeed as long as it is supported by local government and business leaders. Hope is boosted in the community, as this is the first thing that O’Malley and Franchot have agreed upon in 3 1/2 years.

In other political news, in what might later be deemed as just a teensy bit premature, the Maryland GOP names petition guru Neil Parrott as its Man of the Year.

Order is finally restored to the Washington County business scene when the Economic Development Commission announces that it has replaced Troxell with a consultant study. Progress is made on plans for a baseball stadium as well, despite a growing realization that it is not popular among city voters. To restore public confidence, the Hagerstown City Council votes to call it a “multiuse” stadium instead of a “baseball” stadium. In subsequent work sessions, the council also decides to start referring to it as the ewnay adiumstay.

County Commissioners lend their assistance to the ewnay adiumstay as well, voting to contribute an annual $400,000, not to the stadium, but to the county’s consolidated 911 emergency communications center, which will send the money in small unmarked bills to an unnumbered bank account in the Cayman Islands, which will wire it to a witch’s market in La Paz, Bolivia, at which point any and all curses will be removed from the sum before it, after being laundered through a North Korean cabbage processor, will be sent back to the city of Hagerstown’s ewnay adiumstay fund.

Upon hearing of this arrangement, the newly appointed EDC Consultant Study demands a raise.

Having solved the stadium issue, elected leaders turn their attention to a troubled senior-center project. After bids come in too high, the County Commissioners rein in the project by eliminating the second floor. For purposes of clarity, it should be noted that this is not a joke.

Things aren’t working out as well in the county’s recycling efforts, however, as residents who have been targeted for Washington County’s new recycling program are informed they will no longer be permitted to recycle. For some reason, County Administrator Greg Murray hails this as good news.

Not as promising were the announcements that a 400-employee ice cream plant in Hagerstown will close over the summer, and that a coveted financial services firm has backed out of a potential deal to build in Washington County. Washington County’s EDC Consultant Study begins drinking heavily.

In a related matter, storm clouds begin to form over Fort Ritchie after Corporate Offices Property Trust, the owners of the former U.S. Army base, complain that Washington County keeps leaving the toilet seat up. However, another troubled asset — Washington County’s embattled regional airport — gets a boost when it’s announced that yet another airline will attempt to provide commuter flights out of Hagerstown and, even better, the airport might be eligible for a federally funded consultant study.

But who can focus on local government, when the mighty G-8 nations are holding an economic summit right up the road at Camp David? The area bristles with excitement and importance as the world’s great powerhouses announce a financial breakthrough in Europe after Greece agrees not to build a second floor.

Elsewhere on the mountain, COPT and Washington County enter counseling. In airport news, the Regional Airport Consultant Study calls a temp agency to try to line up air service for the coming two weeks.

Meanwhile, faced with a glut of unsold homes in the area’s sluggish real estate market, the Washington County Board of Commissioners extends a stimulus plan designed to spur the construction of new homes. At the same time, the commissioners say they are still thinking over a revolving loan plan to assist small businesses, even though they have been thinking it over for nearly a year.

On the education front, the county spends $1.5 million on land for a new elementary school, but winds up taking heat when it’s revealed a local developer flipped the property for nearly four times what he paid for it less than a year before. After careful consideration, the developer is elected president of the G-8 economic summit.

COPT and Washington County agree to start seeing other people.

Looking to mend the black eye that came about from an unpopular recycling program, Washington County seeks to win back the admiration of the public by stripping funding from the school nurse program. After a hastily called public hearing, the commissioners, while dangling from their thumbs, say it was never their intention that school nurses be fired and blame the whole misunderstanding on the EDC Consultant Study.

Obviously shaken by this development, the commissioners hold a public hearing in which plenty of people testify in favor of the South County Rail Trail — and then dutifully vote to kill the project. Meanwhile, airport officials turn commuter air service over to a crop duster named Earl, who brags that his airline “can’t afford to crash.”

In politics, the Maryland GOP’s Man of the Year Neil Parrott announces he has enough petition signatures to send the state’s newly drawn 6th Congressional District to referendum. There, it will join referendums to overturn laws legalizing gay marriage, granting in-state tuition rates to undocumented immigrants and allowing state residents to vote Democrat.

The county commissioners, meanwhile, announce that the Mecaer Aviation Group will bring about 20 good-paying aircraft maintenance jobs to the regional airport, a sign that a recently opened aviation school there is already paying dividends. What should have been good news for everyone is marred when the EDC Consultant Study and the Regional Airport Consultant Study get into a shouting match over who deserves the credit.

More excitement builds in the community when The Herald-Mail Co. changes its name to Herald-Mail Media and announces the formation of a new cable channel, which will broadcast news, weather and the new reality show “Editors Gone Wild.” In other fantasies, Washington County initiates a PR campaign to tell people who aren’t recycling that they are.

Citing irreconcilable differences, COPT leaves Fort Ritchie on Washington County’s doorstep, rings the doorbell and then goes fishtailing out of the driveway to the relative safety of the Greater Metropolitan Area. The news is no better out of southern Washington County, when the commissioners get an angry letter from the Fairplay Fire Co. saying, in part, “We already run tip jars and hold spaghetti suppers and you want us to fight fires, too?”

In a major entertainment coup, The Maryland Theatre books Engelbert Humperdinck, after being turned down by Ethel Waters and Frankie “Half Pint” Jackson.


Politics and a donor

The local economy continues to brighten as Volvo, formerly Mack Trucks, announces the hiring of 50 more people and a possible $100 million investment in the local plant. As a reward, stock options are issued to the EDC Consultant Study.

As fall approaches, thoughts necessarily turn to the November elections, and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett begins the season on the defensive after comparing student-loan debt to the Holocaust. Bartlett quickly apologizes for the gaffe, and says he also didn’t mean to compare Volkswagen’s sign-and-drive financing promotion to Hiroshima.

Politics continue to rise to a fever pitch, as hundreds of Washington County residents demonstrate their thoughts on gay marriage by taking the difficult and unfamiliar step of eating fast food. But a welcome break in a political campaign season ensues as the nation pauses to remember the comparatively mellow Battle of Antietam.

A hush then falls over the community when a mysterious donor pledges $15 million toward the construction of the ewnay adiumstay. Details of the agreement are hashed out by marathon meetings between Hagerstown City Councilman Lewis Metzner and Harvey the Rabbit.

Another wildlife drama is playing out at the Hagers-Town Town and Country Almanack after the annual woolly bear contest is canceled due to a lack of interest and then reinstated after the almanac’s office is stormed by 50 gun-wielding caterpillars predicting a Permanent Winter of Doom for anyone who pulls the plug on their weather gig.

In other weather news, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett surveys the damage left behind by Superstorm Sandy, and later issues an apology for comparing the historic hurricane to an episode of “The View.”

Concerned over increasing costs at the planned Washington County senior center, the commissioners agree on a new architectural design that eliminates the first floor, but includes “a surprisingly spacious root cellar.” Meanwhile, while waiting for a new facility, seniors are moved from a temporary center on West Washington Street to a more temporary, temporary location at Western Maryland Hospital Center.

After a horrifically long campaign, the general election finally arrives and proves to be a Very Bad Day for Maryland GOP Man of the Year Neil Parrott after state voters endorse gay-marriage rights, undocumented immigrants’ rights to go to college for a little bit less money and state lawmakers’ rights to draw up congressional districts while under the influence of mind-altering substances. It is also a bad day for the ewnay adiumstay, and for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, who spends the day touring the wreckage of his campaign. In other retiree news, Washington County seniors are moved to a mini-storage unit in Smithsburg.

With all of the county projects going down the drain, the EDC Consultant Study and the Regional Airport Consultant Study get into a drunken brawl in a Hagerstown alley, which the City Council immediately names after Engelbert Humperdinck.

More excitement rages outside of Sharpsburg, as the FBI and Maryland State Police in helicopters and armored anti-terrorism vehicles storm a private residence after receiving a tip from a concerned neighbor. After discovering an underground bunker, a cache of weapons, stores of food and numerous anti-Obama slogans, police call off the siege on the grounds that “it’s really not that much different from any other Washington County home.”

Back at the mall, another angry mob forms until store managers are able to convince Hagerstonians that Black Friday is named after post-Thanksgiving sales and not after the death of Twinkies.


Back at the drawing board

And speaking of death, in an ominous sign for the ewnay adiumstay, city officials erase all traces of the project from Hagerstown’s website. The Hagerstown Suns baseball team responds by unfriending the city on its Facebook page. In another uncomfortable development, Hagerstown seniors are moved into an underground bunker in Sharpsburg.

It’s not the way anyone wanted the year to end, with all of the hopes and dreams of 2012 ending in ashes, and going back to the drawing board over the same issues that we have been trying to solve for years and years. But it is always darkest before the dawn, and green shoots can be seen for those who are willing to look.

In the gutter outside a bar, the EDC Consultant Study can be heard saying to the Regional Airport Consultant Study, “This guy here, he’s the guy.” Hagerstown has set a municipal record for alley renaming.

County elites secretly toast the New Year at Fountain Head Country Club. And there is a strange, but certain, comfort in knowing that in Washington County, we celebrate each new year the same as we celebrated the last: By re-living 1997 all over again.


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

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