Mullendore Speaks on Opioid Epidemic

Monday night’s CAP meeting was attended by about 20 CAP members and by four candidates for office in the 2018 election: Donna Brightman, candidate for County Commissioner; Kevin Caldwell, candidate for Congress in Maryland’s 6th Congressional District; John Krowka, candidate for Board of Education; and Bernard Semler, candidate for Washington County State’s Attorney. Caldwell and Semler both addressed the group briefly and informally, speaking of their support for CAP’s nonpartisan mission. Brightman and Krowka did not speak, as they are running for offices CAP will be endorsing. Board of County Commissioners and Board of Education candidates will have the opportunity to seek CAP’s endorsement in the coming weeks, at which point candidates who support our purpose and mission will be invited to address the group at a future meeting.

The meeting’s featured guest speaker was Sheriff Doug Mullendore. The sheriff spoke extensively about the opioid epidemic in Washington County and about what is being done – and what more could be done – to combat it. A 40-year veteran of local law enforcement, Mullendore believes strongly that the county can reduce crime by reducing addiction. Many crimes related to addiction, he said, are “not so much a criminal offense as a medical offense.”

According to Mullendore, it is “absolutely not correct” that people who are addicted have made a choice to become addicts. Because of this understanding, in 2010 he requested funding from the Board of County Commissioners to start a Day Reporting Center in Hagerstown. Day Reporting Centers have been well-documented as extremely successful interventions in the fight against addiction and related crime. The commissioners denied Mullendore’s request, that year and every year for the next five years. Then, in 2016, the Governor’s Opioid Task Force visited Hagerstown and recommended Day Reporting in its resulting report. In October 2016, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office Day Reporting Center was launched with a $540,000 seed grant from the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The Center has been tremendously successful in reducing crime, recidivism, and fatal overdoses in the county. But, Mullendore said, it’s not enough. Washington County needs a detox center and an in-patient substance abuse treatment facility for non-offenders. As it stands now, people seeking treatment in Washington County must often wait days for a spot in a treatment program out of county, during which time they may change their minds, or overdose. A person seeking treatment “should never have to wait for a spot,” Mullendore said, adding that the lack of in-county treatment “costs us all, both economically and socially.”

Many thanks to Sheriff Mullendore for helping us understand more about how this national crisis is affecting us locally. The ongoing failure of the Board of County Commissioners to address the opioid epidemic in our county is an abdication of responsibility bordering on negligence. This is an issue CAP will address in our upcoming interviews with candidates for County Commissioner in the hope of electing candidates who will do something about it.

CAP Discusses Board of Education

Citizens Above Partisanship is focusing on two critical local races in the 2018 election cycle: Board of County Commissioners and Board of Education. At our October and November meetings we heard from speakers whose experience was relevant to the first race; at our most recent meeting, held January 22, we hosted speakers with Board of Education experience.

Panelists at the meeting were two past presidents of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, Joy Schaefer and Donna Brightman. In addition to their experience leading MABE, Schaefer and Brightman are both past presidents of their local Boards of Education, in Frederick and Washington Counties respectively. A third planned speaker, Verjeana Jacobs, was unable to attend due to an emergency.

Both speakers stressed the nonpartisan nature of Boards of Education. Members “have to be concerned about every single kid in every single school,” said Schaefer, recommending that voters look for candidates who are talking about all students. Good Board of Education members are forward thinking and “in it for the long haul,” understanding that the work they do today may not pay off until long after their terms have ended. “Unfortunately, education has become politicized,” she said. “We need thoughtful, deliberative people who will not be swayed by the noise.”

Brightman mentioned several important structural and administrative features of Boards of Education, including the fact that members are state-level officials and are not beholden to local officials. In theory, this prevents the kind of politicization that Schaefer talked about, and Brightman said she would like to see a return to a truly nonpartisan Board of Education in Washington County. She also mentioned the unusually wide range of responsibilities of Board members, from budgeting to policymaking to adjudicating complaints and appeals. Because members have no staff to rely on, they must be prepared to handle all those responsibilities effectively themselves.

The Board of Education race fits perfectly into CAP’s mission to rise above partisan politics. We seek forward-thinking candidates who have a positive vision for public education in our county. In the months to come, we will support those whose vision will serve the common good, irrespective of party affiliation. Follow us to stay informed as we learn more.B & S panel audience

November CAP Meeting: Keller & Gysberts Say County Needs “Vision”

Many thanks to Hagerstown City Councilwoman Emily Keller and former Hagerstown Mayor David Gysberts for joining us at our November 27 meeting in Boonsboro. In conversation with CAP’s own Chip Cook, Keller and Gysberts discussed the qualities that make a good local politician, the relationship between the City of Hagerstown and the rest of Washington County, the opioid crisis, and their priorities as politicians and as citizens.

Gysberts said that, as a politician, “you have to have something you’re for, not just something you’re against… a vision for where you want your community to go.” He emphasized the importance of fiscal responsibility in achieving that vision. “Budgets are a reflection of… values and priorities,” he said, and it’s the job of the mayor and the council to guide municipal spending in a way that reflects and supports those values and priorities.

Keller talked about the importance of connecting with constituents and trying to stand in their shoes. She recalled doing a ride-along with each city department when she was first elected last year. She spoke of the experience as fun but eye-opening. “How can I make a good decision about what the police need if I haven’t seen what they really do?” she asked. A council member needs to talk to all stakeholders in order to figure out the impact that a decision will have on varied constituencies. She admitted that the job is more time-consuming than she had anticipated, but it’s work that “has to be done. I just drag my daughter along with me,” she said with a smile. An engaged citizen from a young age!

Both speakers reiterated the need to “put in the time” and “do your homework,” themes that emerged during former County Administrator Greg Murray’s visit at our October meeting. Both also decried the lack of action from the County Commissioners on the opioid epidemic facing not just Hagerstown but all of Washington County and, indeed, the entire country. It’s not simply that the commissioners are not dealing with the problem, they said, but that they seem to not even realize a problem exists.

Gysberts recalled a current commissioner remarking at the opening ceremony for the new Washington County Free Library building that it was “the biggest, most expensive homeless shelter we could have built.” It is exactly this kind of dismissive attitude toward fellow citizens that Citizens Above Partisanship seeks to remove from county politics. We thank Keller and Gysberts for their time spent helping us understand how we might best go about doing that.

Greg Murray Speaks on the Responsibilities of County Commissioners

Former Washington County Administrator Greg Murray spoke at the October 30 Citizens Above Partisanship meeting. Murray retired in June amid what has unfortunately become typical ineptitude from our County Commissioners. His remarks addressed his understanding, based on 35 years of experience, of the qualities a good Commissioner should possess.

In addition to the necessity of understanding the duties and responsibilities of the office, Murray spoke of the substantial time commitment needed to prepare for meetings, work with other parts of county government, and learn about issues facing the community. A good Commissioner spends time with his or her constituents, discusses questions and concerns with county staff, and is prepared to discuss decisions in public session.

Murray stressed that understanding the financial and human resources implications of decisions is a critical part of each Commissioner’s job. He pointed out that credit rating agencies on Wall Street pay attention to what happens in Washington County, and that rash decision-making can have far-reaching negative consequences.

“A Commissioner has a sworn duty to work for the betterment of the County,” he said, and must set aside “personal agendas, favoritism, and ego… when elected to the Board.” He acknowledged that the office requires sacrifice, but stressed that “sound decision making, tempered with empathy, is critical to the success of the organization and the community the Commissioners serve.”

Murray’s remarks will be important as CAP prepares to put together a job description outlining what we expect from candidates for County Commissioner who want our support in the 2018 election.