Jack Hogan//May 31, 2023
//May 31, 2023
During Gov. Wes Moore’s visit to Hagerstown this week, yearslong tensions about the board of directors for a community center in the city continued to simmer.
The state granted $2.5 million for upgrades to Robert W. Johnson Community Center, though community members have alleged in an online petition that the money “will not be used for what it is intended to be used for,” with portions going to “the pockets of members on the board and those who are a part of Western Maryland [Community Development Corporation].”
In 2022, the Western Maryland Community Development Corporation stewarded state funding for the community center. The chairman and CEO of the corporation, Reggie Turner, is also a community center board member.
Turner did not respond to an email requesting comment, instead forwarding the request to David Young, head of the community center board and a former associate judge for the Circuit Court for Baltimore City.
Young said it was “defamatory and insulting” for anyone to suggest that the state funding, meant for a new roof and swimming pool upgrades, was being misused.
“I can’t tell you how disturbed I am by these allegations,” he said.
Because of disagreements with the community center’s board of directors, and specifically Turner, Hagerstown Mayor Tekesha Martinez declined to accompany those who gave Moore a tour of Jonathan Street, a historically African American part of Hagerstown that includes a historic home that is the subject of a documentary for which Moore was interviewed this week.
Martinez, who was also interviewed for the documentary, said she couldn’t stand for photo ops and touring with Turner, who she said is seeking to divide the community.
A months-old community petition on change.org calling for the disbandment of the community center board of directors and alleging “ineffective leadership, destructive management and detrimental public remarks” has about 600 signatures.
State Sen. Paul Corderman, a Republican whose district includes Hagerstown, said Turner “should be applauded” for helping to set the board on a more stable path.
Corderman said the center’s leadership has historically been unstable and “in flux,” with one former board chair being ousted for embezzlement and another leaving more recently on unfriendly terms — which the state senator said has fed the recent tensions.
Corderman, along with state Sen. Joanne Benson, a Democrat who represents Prince George’s County but went to school at what is now the community center, pushed for the state legislature to approve funding for the community center last session.
Benson could not immediately be reached by phone call for comment.
A spokesman for Moore declined to comment on the disagreements between the mayor and those overseeing the community center.
Moore was interviewed at the community center on Tuesday for a documentary called “The House on Jonathan Street,” which uses the story of one home to trace the history of Hagerstown and a historically African American neighborhood in the city, and to examine the economic and racial challenges facing small and midsize industrial cities across the country.
The documentary begins with reports of a police chase in 2018 that ended in a vehicle crashing into 417 Jonathan St. The small house was scheduled to be demolished until people discovered its ties to Hagerstown’s European founder, Jonathan Hager, according to the Emmy Award-winning company producing the documentary, 3 Roads Communications, which is based in Frederick.
The documentary is expected to begin airing on national public television and on Amazon Prime, or another streaming service, in February 2024, said founder Russ Hodge.
During his interview, Moore said that Hagerstown — the county seat in an area where nearly 60% of voters cast a ballot for former Del. Dan Cox, Moore’s Donald Trump-endorsed opponent last November — “represents the very identity of Maryland.”
Since taking office, Moore has said repeatedly that his administration would be one to represent every corner of the state.
“For Maryland to see its full potential,” Moore said in his prepared remarks for the documentary, “Hagerstown must be part of it.”T