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Emily Keller's colleagues give advice for new role on her last night as Hagerstown mayor

By Dave McMillion, The Herald-Mail,


Searching for words through tears, Mayor Emily Keller bid farewell to the city Tuesday night during her last Hagerstown City Council meeting before heading to work for Gov. Wes Moore.

Keller and members of the council recalled how she has grown in her role in leading the city and serving a four-year stint on the council before that.

It all started with Bob Bruchey

In her parting words to each council member, Keller looked at Councilman Bob Bruchey in a humorous moment and said "this is all your fault."

She recalled how Bruchey, who was working for the Hagerstown Suns baseball team at the time, came into her insurance office at the end of 2015 and told her he was going to run for mayor that following year. And Bruchey said he needed smart people on the council and that Keller should consider running.

She did and won a seat before setting her eyes on the mayor's job.

Previously:Md. Gov.-elect Moore names Mayor Emily Keller as special secretary of opioid response

Tuesday was Keller's last day as mayor after Moore announced earlier this month that Keller would serve on his cabinet as special secretary for opioid response, a field she has devoted much time in. She starts in her new role Wednesday.

No word on successor yet

There was no mention during the meeting about who will follow Keller as mayor. City Administrator Scott Nicewarner said after the meeting that the five-member council will meet in closed-door session Tuesday to discuss the matter.

"We'll see where it goes from there," he said.

Nicewarner said previously that the decision would be up to the council. He said the city charter is "vague" on the process, and added that the council can appoint someone from among its ranks, name an outsider, or organize an application process.

The council got through an agenda of business during Tuesday's regular meeting, then the rest of the time was spent reflecting on Keller's time with the city.

Councilwoman Tiara Burnet assured Keller that the council will keep the group's work going and Councilwoman Tekesha Martinez told Keller that she's well equipped to tackle her duties in Annapolis.

"Just hang in there," Martinez said.

Councilman Kristin Aleshire said he saw a friend the other day who asked him if he's still on the council. Aleshire said he reflected on the man's comment and realized he's been on the body for more than 20 years. And that Keller is the fifth mayor he's served with.

He told Keller she's come a long way in her work for the city.

"Keep that fire and don't ever apologize for it," Aleshire said.

A couple residents also thanked Keller for her work, including South Mulberry Street resident Michael Staup, who has appeared repeatedly before the council to complain about drug use in his neighborhood. Staup said Keller showed up in the neighborhood when he needed her.

Keller cried through her remarks, also thanking people in the crowd, including family members who supported her.

The city presented Keller with a framed sketch of her working at her desk.

"I don't know where to start," Keller said.

She praised city staff and said, "I had no idea the amount of work it takes to make this place run."

She said leading the city was an opportunity of a lifetime and said critics of Hagerstown are getting it wrong.

"We have so many tremendous things here, so many projects. We're better than the naysayers on social media," Keller said.

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For several years, Keller has been co-chair of Washington Goes Purple, a movement to educate youth and the community about the dangers of narcotics, the importance of making healthy choices, and celebrating those in recovery.

During a news conference earlier this month when Keller announced her new position, she tearfully told those gathered about why she first ran for elected office. It was a close friend who died of a heroin overdose, and Keller said her mission has always been to give her friend a voice in the battle against opioid addiction.

The South Hagerstown High School graduate, who was born and raised here, said she will continue to live in Hagerstown and commute to Annapolis for her cabinet duties. She is the owner-operator of Emily Keller Insurance and Financial Agency — Farmers Insurance.

Also:Ethics complaint claims Mayor Keller told 'terrible lies.' 'Absolutely unfounded' she says

Keller joined transition team for Moore after he was elected in November. She said the work involved committees overseeing the work of smaller ones in focusing on Moore's priorities. Keller worked on a substance-abuse and mental-health committee.

Ethics complaint still pending

Keller was recently hit with a city ethics complaint in which an addictions worker claimed Keller used her position to discredit him. The case still is scheduled to be heard Feb. 6 by the city ethics commission, according to city officials.

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