The manner in which a feasibility study examining potential sites for moving the Washington County Board of Education central offices to downtown Hagerstown was conducted spurred a local economic development official to speak out last week.
“The most troubling part about this study is not the study, but the manner in which it was veiled from the community at large,” said Ron Bowers, vice chairman of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission (EDC). “That’s what the problem is.”
The study, compiled by a Greater Hagerstown Committee (GHC) task force, includes no members of the EDC, an entity that would be able to assist in a project like the relocation of the BOE into the city’s downtown, Bowers said.
“They’ve totally excluded the very people who can be there to help,” he said.
GHC task force chairman Tim Henry said Monday that “nobody was purposely excluded” from the task force or the study itself, including the EDC.
GHC was asked by the city to put together a group that could assist in examining potential downtown sites to relocate the BOE’s administrative offices, he said.
“It wasn’t a Greater Hagerstown initiative,” Henry said, noting that nothing in the study’s preparation was “hidden” other than one meeting with the school board to acquire permission and overall needs for a facility.
The absence of EDC representation prompted Bowers to say he believes it’s this type of action that promotes the perception of “shadow government” in Hagerstown and Washington County.
A cohesive transparency between city, county and other economic development agencies — as well as an overall master redevelopment plan for the city’s downtown — needs to be in place for any progress to take place, he said.
While no EDC members sat on the task force of 17 GHC members, Bowers said it did include five members of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation Inc., also known as CHIEF.
“By looking at the people on the task force, they know that there should be other folks involved in this process from economic development,” he said. “Nearly two years in the making, and all may be for naught because the current thinking for redeveloping downtown Hagerstown may totally change.”
Henry, who was chair of the EDC for two years and was serving in that capacity when the task force began in April 2011, said the county and EDC was well aware of the GHC task force working on the report over the past 20 months, with some of those involved also having worked on the former committee eyeing a downtown stadium, which appears to have lost momentum since November.
The GHC’s task force study will be the topic of discussion between city officials and the county school board during a joint meeting Tuesday at 2 p.m., at the BOE’s central office facility on Commonwealth Avenue.
Later Tuesday, Hagerstown Mayor David S. Gysberts and the Hagerstown City Council will sit down for a joint session with the Washington County Board of Commissioners at City Hall, also to discuss the report.