CAP Announces 2020 Endorsements

Members of Citizens Above Partisanship voted last week to endorse the following candidates for local offices in the 2020 general election:

Mayor of Hagerstown:

  • Emily Keller

Hagerstown City Council:

  • Brooke Grossman
  • Shelley McIntire
  • Brenda Thiam

Washington County Board of Education:

  • Pieter Bickford
  • Benjamin Forrest
  • Melissa Williams

All of the above races are nonpartisan; however, in keeping with CAP’s mission, the candidates we are endorsing span the political and ideological spectrum. Most importantly, all have demonstrated a willingness to work across divides, partisan and otherwise, for the good of the constituents they serve. Details of the reasons for our support follow.

Emily Keller
Emily is completing her first term as a member of the Hagerstown City Council, and she knows what it takes to get things done in Hagerstown. As a member of the City Council, she initiated Washington Goes Purple in order to address opioid addiction. She has proven she can work across differences to move the city forward. Emily’s bipartisan campaign is an outstanding example of what Citizens Above Partisanship stands for.

Brooke Grossman
Brooke is a resident of Hagerstown’s City Center. She believes in the strength of Hagerstown and its residents. She is a solutions-focused leader who believes strongly in collaboration and wants to make sure that the voices of all Hagerstown residents are heard. She is passionate about ensuring that Hagerstown is poised to attract new economic opportunities that not only benefit the municipality, but also the residents of the city.

Shelley McIntire 
Shelley is a current City Councilwoman who was appointed by the Mayor and City Council in 2017. She owns and runs a small business in the county and believes in helping her community through action. Above all, she believes in transparency and ethical leadership. Shelley has demonstrated an impressive ability to work collaboratively to improve Hagerstown.

Brenda Thiam
Brenda is running for City Council to work alongside the citizens of Hagerstown and to set high goals and accomplish them. She believes in wise spending, citizen empowerment, a safer community, and enhanced economic growth. Brenda’s nuanced approach to complex issues and a sincere desire to work across party lines for the future of Hagerstown is why we support her.

Pieter Bickford
Pieter is a current member of the Board of Education. He has a strong desire to work with his fellow board members and the public to lead appropriately. Pieter understands the challenges to diversifying WCPS staff and leadership and is supportive of efforts to do so.

Benjamin Forrest
Benjamin believes a leader is someone who listens to the people they lead. He is passionate about getting teachers the materials and resources they need and recruiting high quality teachers. He wants to address race and equity issues and talk to those most impacted by these issues.

Melissa Williams
Melissa is a lifelong resident of Washington County and has spent her thirty-five year career in public education in the schools of Washington County. She currently serves as the President for the Board of Education. Her desire to find a way to better serve lower income students and continue to advocate for all students shows that she shares CAP’s values.

Aleshire & Souders Discuss Municipal Government in Washington County

On February 24, Citizens Above Partisanship hosted a panel discussion on local government at the Smithsburg Town Hall. The panel, featuring Smithsburg Town Councilman Donnie Souders and Hagerstown City Councilman Kristin Aleshire, covered local municipality concerns and initiatives ranging from diversity to local economy.

You can watch the panel here:

Keller, Kifer Discuss City of Hagerstown

On Monday night CAP members heard from Hagerstown City Councilwoman Emily Keller and Chief of Police Joey Kifer about current initiatives, ongoing challenges, and future directions for the city. The conversation addressed topics including economic development, addiction and recovery, homelessness and housing, and the relationship between the city and county governments.

Both Keller and Kifer spoke of positive changes in downtown Hagerstown. Kifer cited an extremely low crime rate, saying that “crime downtown is petty stuff,” and reporting significant decreases in virtually every category over the last five years. Keller added that Hagerstown is “better than most people think we are – we get a lot of bad press.” She mentioned substantial investment in the downtown arts district, including the new Maryland Theatre, an addition to the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, and many new businesses. At the same time, Keller said, bringing more people downtown to live and play will require significant investment in housing and infrastructure, including basic things like grocery stores.

Speaking about challenges in the city, Keller mentioned opioid addiction and the success of Washington Goes Purple in raising awareness about the opioid crisis. Kifer noted the relationship between education and preventing addiction, lauding the recent increase in drug education in the public schools. He pointed to Antietam Academy as a major asset in supporting children who are dealing with issues that are disruptive to their educations. Providing a positive educational environment for those students, he said, helps break cycles that contribute to poverty, addiction, and crime. Kifer added that diversity in the police force has been a priority under his leadership, not only to ensure that law enforcement represents the community, but also to aid in understanding the needs of the community.

Asked about the problem of homelessness in the city, Kifer spoke movingly of trying to protect homeless citizens from risks inherent to their situation, such as harassment and violence. Keller talked about the enormous challenges such citizens face in simply finding food and shelter on a daily basis, leaving little time for job training and seeking employment. Many people without permanent addresses are unable to apply for jobs; others with temporary addresses may not be able to get things like utilities in their own names, making it difficult to establish credit and move to permanent housing. She discussed things the city is doing to try to help, such as the new Bridge to Change program and exploring various forms of affordable housing.

Discussing the relationship between the city and county governments, Keller said that they have a “mostly good relationship,” and that there have been some productive informal discussions between herself, Councilwoman Shelley McIntyre, and Commissioners Cort Meinelschmidt and Randy Wagner. She acknowledged that things like fire & rescue, water & sewer, and resulting tax differentials constitute “pain points” between the city and county, but said, “my job is to protect the citizens of the City of Hagerstown.”

The discussion concluded with a lively Q & A, culminating in the following question from an audience member: “how do we change the narrative of Hagerstown?” Keller and Kifer both expressed frustration over what they consider disproportionate media coverage of a very few negative stories, and agreed that we need to do more to shine light on the many positive things happening in the city.

With that in mind, CAP invites all readers to our Party Above Partisanship at The Flying Camel Café on Thursday, December 19 from 5-7pm!

Upcoming Candidate Forum

Candidate Forum
Monday, May 21
6:30-8:00 p.m.

Room 334
Washington County Free Library
Fletcher Branch
100 S. Potomac Street, Hagerstown

Featuring the candidates CAP is endorsing for
County Commissioner and Board of Education:

Donna Brightman
Scott Bryan
John Krowka
Cort Meinelschmidt
Elizabeth Paul

Everyone welcome!

To submit a question for the candidates to address at the forum, please complete the form below:

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.

Washington County’s Ethics Fail

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.

 

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.