It would be hard to find a city more negatively affected by the 2006 implosion of property values, and the ensuing recession, than Hagerstown. Prior, the city had seemingly turned the corner after two decades of decline, with investors lined up for a piece of the action downtown.
When property values plummeted, many of these investors simply retreated back to the cities, leaving empty buildings festooned with fading “Coming Soon” banners as a cruel reminder of what might have been.
Although the Hagerstown City Council has struggled on over the past four years, it saw the addition of the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, a parking deck, an improved Arts and Entertainment District and helped to plan a major library renovation. Dim as downtown Hagerstown’s future might seem at times, its journey upward does not start at zero.
Still, we believe it will take at least one, and most likely several, bold steps to turn the city into a place where people with disposable incomes — the key demographic for inner-city success — will want to be.
Small, incremental steps might work for more established communities, but not in a city with so many glaring needs.
We believe the incumbent members of the current council have shown both the vision necessary to see clearly the need for bold ideas, and the fortitude to embrace these ideas even when they are not universally popular.
Therefore we endorse for council the four members running for re-election: William Breichner, Martin Brubaker, Ashley Haywood and Lewis Metzner. Together, they have moved the city forward as much as could be expected in a business climate devoid of tailwinds.
Individually, they all bring skills to the table to form a credible complement of team players. Probably no one knows the nuts and bolts of city government better than Breichner, dating back to his time as city administrator. He has been a steady presence through the years, and lends a valuable institutional memory to the council.
Brubaker has a wealth of planning knowledge, which is needed as more and more land around the central city becomes developed and incorporated into town. He has been a cautious voice on public developments, but has demonstrated an open mind to new ideas. We also like his advocacy for private growth to match public projects.
Haywood might see the big picture better than anyone, and is particularly impressive in her views of the partnerships needed among all levels of government and private enterprise for positive, high-quality growth. Urging the city to move past its “communal fear of change,” when a proper course of action presents itself, Haywood adds a young, fresh perspective that recognizes the new trends and industries that will shape 21st century cities.
Metzner, a council member for nearly 20 years, has also seen the need for forceful action downtown, supporting — if the numbers work — a new stadium, parking deck and perhaps a move of the school board’s central offices to downtown. As Metzner properly points out, the city has fought a largely winning battle to upgrade from the strip clubs and adult bookstores of the 1980s to the loftier enterprises of today.
As do the four incumbents, we believe the foundation is in place and now the city is ready for some dramatic action that will take us to higher levels of success.
This leaves room for one newcomer to the council, and to this seat we would return former council member Kristin Aleshire to City Hall. Aleshire has served on both the council and on the Washington County Board of Commissioners, and has filled the role of community fact-checker. Aleshire’s data-mining can be tedious at times, but few details get past him and he is never uncomfortable asking uncomfortable questions. While we urge bold action on the part of the council, we would also suggest that it be leavened with prudence, and Aleshire would serve that role quite nicely.
We also recognize former State Sen. Donald Munson. Munson’s candidacy is tantalizing. We believe his contacts in the Maryland General Assembly would help the city, but we have been disappointed with his statements concerning the job as a member of the council, which revolve around financial discipline and little else. Not going bankrupt is an admirable goal to be sure, but we had hoped to hear more vision from the man who did a world of good for the county while a state senator.
Perhaps this is merely a hangover from being defeated by a darling of the tea party last time around, but rigid austerity is hardly what the city needs at the moment.
The newly elected council will have its work cut out for it, and the quality of that work, we believe, will be dependent on a talent for bold thought and dramatic, yet well-reasoned, action. Those who will best accomplish this job are Aleshire, Breichner, Brubaker, Haywood and Metzner.