By Greg Murray, Treasurer to the Donna Brightman campaign
What can we say about the election? Well, we knew from the beginning that it would be difficult to get a female Democrat elected to the Board of County Commissioners in Washington County. Even so, the goal was to get the message of change out to the public and help shed light on all the issues that any candidate would need to address. That happened. Washington County is the better for it.
Looking at the vote tallies it’s obvious that the party line carried the day, but what did that say? First, the five Republicans were followed by two female Democrats – Donna Brightman and Elizabeth Paul. Their voices were heard. Second, two new Board members were seated – Cort Meinelschmidt and Randy Wagner. And third, the voters overwhelmingly chose a new president for the Board, with the potential that the vice president will be one of the new members rather than an incumbent (pending final tallies, and of course the new Board must actually elect the new officers). Change carried the day. The voters wanted a different direction on the Board and they got it. Again, this is good for Washington County.
After 40 years as a Republican (I hear many of you groan), I saw in Donna Brightman someone who really understood the need to get the county back on track, and she helped make that happen. The outcome may not have been everything we wanted, but it also was not unexpected. We wanted to make change, and change was made.
Now it is up to the new leadership to carry that change forward for the betterment of Washington County. We support them in that. Hopefully we can put the nonsense aside and truly get back to business.
Leadership, vision, direction, trust, and cooperation – all things these candidates value and will bring to the table. Let’s bring government for the common good back to Washington County!
Monday, May 21
Washington County Free Library
100 S. Potomac Street, Hagerstown
Featuring the candidates CAP is endorsing for
County Commissioner and Board of Education:
To submit a question for the candidates to address at the forum, please complete the form below:
Citizens Above Partisanship’s extremely successful Meet the Candidates Kickoff party at Bulls & Bears on Thursday, May 10 was concrete evidence that Washington County is ready for cooperative, nonpartisan government. The event was attended by four of the five candidates CAP is endorsing in the 2018 election and by more than 50 community members and supporters. Attendees enjoyed food, drink, and animated conversation about the future of Washington County. Overheard were discussions of education funding, tax policy, and economic development, as well as spirited debate about candidates for statewide office. These conversations were certainly energetic, but they were also mutually respectful, with an eye toward how to best serve the common good.
Each candidate addressed the crowd briefly, talking about their support for CAP’s mission of nonpartisan cooperation and about their individual campaign objectives. John Krowka, candidate for Board of Education, led off by talking about smart school spending, career readiness that doesn’t always involve a college degree, the need for community engagement, and the fact that “one size does not fit all” in education.
The crowd then heard from the candidates CAP is endorsing for County Commissioner. These candidates span the political spectrum, but while they spoke from different perspectives they voiced similar concerns. Donna Brightman asked the crowd to redirect the frustration they might be feeling about politics at the national level into meaningful action at the local level. Scott Bryan emphasized the importance of mutual trust between a community and its leaders. Cort Meinelschmidt talked about the need for a budget that meets the needs of all citizens, and praised Krowka for his emphasis on education that serves all students. Although Elizabeth Paul was unable to be at the Kickoff, a campaign representative spoke on her behalf about her commitment to ethical leadership and responsible governance.
The breadth of support for CAP’s mission was further evident in the wide range of donations to the silent auction that took place at the Kickoff. From Fountain Head Country Club to Talon Studio Tattoo and with many, many others in between, small businesses all over the county clearly understand the necessity of cooperative government in Washington County. Other business donors included:
CAP is deeply grateful to all these businesses, as well as to the individual artists and collectors who also donated to the auction, and of course to everyone who came out to the Kickoff to support our candidates and our mission. Democracy takes work. It’s good to know that we can have fun at the same time!
Citizens Above Partisanship met Monday night to vote on endorsements in the races for Washington County Commissioner and Board of Education. After spirited discussion, members voted to endorse five candidates for County Commissioner:
In addition, CAP endorses John Krowka for the nonpartisan Board of Education.
In keeping with its nonpartisan mission, CAP’s County Commissioner endorsements include three Democrats and two Republicans. All are passionate about working across political differences for the good of all Washington County residents and are committed to CAP’s three priorities: education, the economy, and ethics.
Watch this space for candidate profiles in the coming weeks, and be sure to get your ticket to meet them in person at our Meet the Candidates event on May 10.
Update May 3: We are saddened to learn that Harry Jones has had to withdraw from the race.
It was with disappointment, if not surprise, that we read the findings of the county Ethics Commission released late last week.
Where to begin? With the leaking of a document clearly classified as confidential by the county’s own Harassment Policy? With the decision that said leak was not unethical because it was not for “private gain,” a caveat that is nowhere mentioned in the policy itself? Perhaps with the twin decision that misleading the public by selectively leaking incomplete information is also perfectly ethical, for the same reason. Maybe we should begin with the county’s Ethics Ordinance, which deals almost exclusively with financial disclosure. Or with the murky Ethics Commission itself, appointed by the very commissioners it was charged to investigate. Apparently the entirety of Washington County government believes that nothing is unethical unless it leads to personal financial gain. As they say, follow the money.
In any case, clearly nobody wants to begin where it actually began, with the allegations of gross misconduct brought against Commissioner LeRoy Myers. Oh, a powerful man made unwanted sexual advances toward a subordinate woman? Yawn. Nothing unethical about that.
Aristotle conceived of ethical behavior as the “good action” which is necessary for living a virtuous life. Ethical judgements are complex. We get that. Nevertheless, by any measure save their own, the Board of County Commissioners is an ethical failure.
Citizens Above Partisanship’s statement of priorities calls ethical considerations “the highest, philosophical level of our democracy;” the one that guides all our other priorities. “Ethics are a manifestation of our common values and our commitment to shared humanity,” the statement goes on. The necessity of doing the difficult, messy work of making local government reflect those values and commitment has never been more evident.
We call on the Board of County Commissioners to establish a robust, confidential reporting structure for ethics violations and a meaningfully independent Ethics Commission to handle such reports. If the current Board is unable or unwilling to do so, then we call on them to step aside for candidates who will. Good government presupposes selfless commitment to a common good. If our current commissioners cannot concretely demonstrate that they have that commitment, then we will elect commissioners who can.
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.
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.