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Hagerstown residents take city council to task on crime, stadium

August 27, 2013|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

Residents Tuesday night fired a double-blast of criticism at the Hagerstown City Council and Mayor David S. Gysberts over growing city crime and their handling of the potential move by the Hagerstown Suns.

Six speakers and one person who submitted comments for Councilwoman Penny Nigh to read aloud brought up the issues during a public comment period in a council meeting at City Hall.

Residents in the Jefferson Street area complained about unruly youths congregating in their neighborhood, gangs, drug use, thefts, destruction of property and other offensive behavior.

Jefferson Street resident Jeff Taulton said he used to feel comfortable in his home, but with increasing crime, he is considering moving out of Hagerstown.

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Taulton said he sometimes doesn’t get home from work until about 2 a.m., sometimes finding his front porch damaged, and litter and tools stolen from neighbors scattered around.

Taulton, who talked about groups of kids intimidating motorists, said he no longer feels comfortable walking in Fairgrounds Park because of the people congregating there.

His wife also told council members that there is also a lot of gang activity.

“It’s gotten pretty bad,” said Jefferson Street resident Sam Tracy, who talked about youths using vulgar language and stealing items off people’s porches.

Gysberts said the comments were “certainly powerful.”

One speaker hinted about taking matters into his own hands, but Gysberts cautioned against that. The mayor said residents need to call police if there is a problem, because they can track data to zero in on a problem.

Gysberts said the city also has a nuisance abatement law that targets properties that are consistently causing problems.

After reading comments from a resident, Nigh acknowledged that crime has become worse in the city. She made a plea to get the Hagerstown Police Department the help it needs to get more officers on the streets.

“It’s not going to be cheap,” said Councilman Donald F. Munson, who also acknowledged there are “serious problems” with crime.

Switching to the Hagerstown Suns, Oak Hill Avenue resident Nancy Allen told council members “you sat on your thumbs. I say shame on you, because you have not done the will of the people.”

The comments came as the Fredericksburg City Council Tuesday night gave its initial approval of a deal to move the minor league baseball team to that Virginia city.

Barbara Hovermill criticized the council for looking again at building a Hagerstown Suns stadium at the proposed downtown site off Baltimore Street.

Hovermill questioned whether the city picked the site, because there are people in the neighborhood who are less likely to put up a fight.

Harold Wills of Summit Avenue said Gysberts once stood with him in the opposition to the Baltimore Street site, but now the city has been reconsidering the site.

Wills read sections of The Herald-Mail quoting Gysberts’ concerns about the Baltimore Street site before he became mayor.

Gysberts suggested Wills not take up all his time reading the newspaper.

“I can understand your reluctance to hear this,” Wills said.

Gysberts said he would like to address some inaccuracies after Wills spoke but he would refrain for the moment.

“Fight the city newspaper, not me sir,” Wills said, returning to his seat.

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