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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A NEW BALL GAME IN HAGERSTOWN

    The new mayor and city council were sworn in last night. The air felt a little thinner in the council chamber. The thick stifling smog of arrogance was replaced with humble gratitude. It is a new beginning. The salesman has left the building.
  I feel like I can take a big sigh of relief knowing that the frenzied secret actions of the previous administration have come to a screeching halt. Although two of the council members who back the new stadium, its public funding, and its controversial location remain, the four newcomers either oppose it or approach it with some skepticism. This new administration could still vote to proceed exactly as previously proposed, but I am relieved that it will be at a slower pace and I believe that it will be a more transparent process.
     I have never been against a new stadium. Myself and the Hagerstown TEA Party (who I represent on this issue) have been against any public funding for this project and the appearance of crony capitalism. If the Suns invest most of the cost of the project and find private investors to join them, by all means, lets build a stadium! Others though are vehemently against the new stadium for various reasons: the location, or they want to save Municipal Stadium, or they are against the large price tag (regardless of the funding source) in this bad economy, or they do not believe it will revitalize downtown...just to name a few. Unfortunately the process became more of an issue than the project.
   I do not gloat that Mayor Bruchey lost the election. I voted for him every time that I had a chance to vote for him, that is, except for this election. I used to cheer him on as he rode down South Potomac Street in the Mummer's Parade. I agreed with him more often than not and I am grateful for his service.
   It was his leadership on this issue that changed everything for me. I understand that things had to move quickly at the start due to the possibility that the Suns could move to Winchester, VA. I also understand that perhaps there may have been cause for some secrecy concerning negotiations. I am sorry, but in my opinion that is where things quickly got out of control. The public was not informed about choices. The public was instead notified of  decisions already made on their behalf. That was a huge flaw in the process from the start! The Ripken Study was taylor-made to promote those decisions, which were 1.) Municipal Stadium will not be renovated, 2.) a new multi-use facility will be built, 3.) it will be located at Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue, and 4.) it will be funded primarily with public funds.
    The Ripken presentation was the sales pitch that was the start of a concerted effort of the mayor and council, the city staff, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Herald Mail and various other groups to sell those decisions to the public with the mayor leading the way. This brought out the salesman in him. There is nothing wrong with being a salesman, and as mayor it is an asset to be able to sell your city. It was wrong to try to sell a pre-conceived $37M project to the taxpayers. The taxpayers should have had a say regarding those four decisions before they were made. Many were saying, "They aren't listening to us. They've made up their minds. They don't care what we want." No one was invited or allowed to present alternatives or facts that contradicted their sales pitch. Everything was geared towards that sell: the Ripken Study, the Municipal Stadium tours, the one community meeting with the questionable "facts." Most of the questions went unanswered that night.
    I found the whole process offensive and exhausting. The arrogance and outright disdain expressed by some for those who dared to oppose was hard to watch and hard to take. Now I feel like we can focus on the project and not the process. We may even wind up with a multi-use faciltity, built on Baltimore Street and Summit Avenue, paid for mostly by the taxpayer. Just treat the taxpayer with respect and honesty (THE SUNS OWNERS REFUSE TO PLAY AT MUNICIPAL STADIUM) and give all of us a chance to state our case and I will accept whatever the outcome. I may even go to a game. I may even like it.
 

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