By now, you've most likely heard about Mayor Gysberts' recent personal attack against myself as well as a Board of Education candidate.
I've spent a lot of today thinking on how to approach this topic. You see, when an elected official begins publicly attacking local residents, resorting to name calling and bashing, it's a sign of a serious problem. However, while this problem has manifested itself in the form of a personal attack, the underlying problem is not a personal attack at all - the personal attack is merely a symptom of the problem.
Before I continue, I'd like to share a letter which I received I sent in May, and the response I received from Mayor Gysberts.
I quite honestly have a lot of respect for Mayor Gysberts. His letter helped inspire me to begin further investigating local issues and candidates. Additionally, on top of being Mayor of Hagerstown, which is really a full time job itself, he's also a guidance counselor for Montgomery County Public Schools, helping to guide our youth to find themselves and their career paths. I was quite surprised when a person I respect so much made such comments publicly on social media. However, I know that Mayor Gysberts is only human, and I forgive him for his words.
Unfortunately, as this is not a dedicated full time job for me, and I typically do a lot of research myself, I never have enough time to find out everything. I have relied a fair amount on tips provided to me by the community on issues to investigate. And unfortunately, when part of the community believes I'm biased for/against certain candidates, the tips I receive eventually become one-sided, despite my best efforts. How I wish I actually had funding to hire an entire team of people to investigate and report on local issues - I think some really great things could be accomplished.
I have nothing personal against anyone who has been part of the investigative journalism on this site. My sole purpose has been, and always will be, to keep the residents of Washington County as informed as possible.
But back to the matter at hand. So what is the underlying problem, which would cause an elected official to make remarks like this? Frankly put, this has been a rather ugly election year. Personal attacks from multiple campaigns, candidates who refuse to talk about issues, but rather their opponents flaws. Personally, as a voter, I'm still not sure who I'm voting for this upcoming Tuesday, because of all the chaos. However, the election is not the underlying problem, but merely another symptom.
So what is the underlying problem? Simply put, Washington County is broken, and despite all the campaign promises, and despite all the meetings, no one is quite sure how to fix it. We're losing businesses. Losing businesses means losing jobs. Losing jobs means losing residents. It's vicious cycle which could quickly spiral out of control, and end up turning Hagerstown and Washington County into a ghost town.
We need to put this election behind us. We need to get back on track. This election really has brought out the worst in everyone. At some point, I think we all lost sight of what's truly important - how do we make Washington County, including Hagerstown, a better place to live, work, and go to school? What needs to be done, how do we do it, and what will it take to get there?
We must do better. We must improve Washington County and keep it competitive with the surrounding area. We must take advantage of what Washington County already has available, and build up what we don't have, in order to make this area an attractive place for businesses. Education, and attracting businesses, must become priorities. And finally, we need to tackle the crime problem, and gang problem, in our county.
I see no benefit whatsoever in any of us going at each other with personal attacks. Sure, we can use it as cannon fodder for election time, but will that really accomplish anything? I say no, it won't. As far as I'm concerned, Mayor Gysberts and any other local officials which may feel ill will towards WashCo Chronicle for its investigative journalism, I would like to offer an olive branch. Let's set aside our differences, Divided, we are weak, and nothing will ever improve. If we work together, we are strong, and just maybe we can fix Washington County.
I would like to propose a conference. Let's set aside an entire day in the upcoming year, and invite representatives from community businesses, as well as all local elected officials up to and including the state level, to meet at a conference in Hagerstown and work together to try and figure out how we can improve Washington County.
A few topic points of discussion:
- How can we leverage Hagerstown's HUBZone status to bring in Federal contractors?
- How can we leverage I-70 and I-81 crossroads to attract manufacturing and distribution companies?
- How can we provide economic incentives for existing businesses to relocate to Washington County?
- How can we help new businesses start in Washington County? The small business incubator is a great start, but can we do more?
- How can we better address crime through community involvement?
I want this county to succeed - and I know that Hagerstown, as the "hub city", must be key to the economic prosperity of our county.
So what do you say Mayor Gysberts? Will you accept this olive branch, and work together to help improve Hagerstown and Washington County? You know my number, and you know my email. Let's work together, and work to succeed.
Ken Buckler is the Editor of WashCo Chronicle.