WESTMINSTER - Sharon L. Baker made the boldest move yet in the 1990 campaign for county commissioner, explaining at a press conference yesterday why the lone incumbent in the race should not be re-elected.
Standing outside the County Office Building on a commissioners' meeting day, Baker told reporters that Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, her indirect boss, "has flip-flopped on some very important issues" and "has been unresponsive to the people."
"The people of Carroll deserve a commissioner who can make up her mind, and then make it stick," said Baker, a Democrat who works as a client services supervisor for the County Department of Aging. "We don't need one whose mind is changed depending on who was the last person to get her ear."
She also disparaged one of the cornerstones of Gouge's campaign, questioning whether the "continuity" the GOP incumbent would provide truly would be an advantage for residents.
It was the first salvo -- coming just one week before Tuesday's election -- in a race in which the six candidates for the three-member board otherwise have been content to tout their personal attributes and stake their own positions on issues, virtually disregarding their opponents' stances.
Baker, who charged that Gouge "has very little idea" of what county residents desire, said her criticisms were not a personal attack on the commissioner, but a comparison of leadership abilities.
"Julia is the one I compare myself to most," she said. "I'm assertive.
Julia is indecisive on issues."
"I don't feel trying to put another candidate down or criticize them is the way I want to run my campaign," Gouge said in response to Baker's comments. "I have not done that in the past, and I won't stoop to doing it at this point."
She repeated her conviction that continuity in office will be "very important in the next four years" to advance programs that have been started.
Baker questioned Gouge's decisions on development impact fees and her 1989 proposal to increase the property tax rate by 62 cents, saying the commissioner waffled in both cases. She also criticized Gouge for leaving a 1989 budget hearing after several hours while some residents waited to comment and for stalling that year in her decision on education financing.
Gouge said she rejected raising impact fees on residential development this year -- after supporting a small increase initially -- because of the declining economy.
She proposed the large tax increase for fiscal 1990 to show residents what it would cost to finance the entire education budget and other requested services, she said. She encouraged residents to comment, she said, before eventually supporting a 12-cent increase.
"I feel very proud of my record as a commissioner. I'm willing to stand on that record," she said.
Several county and business officials expressed some concern that three novice commissioners could take office in December, but generally agreed it wouldn't be a major problem if it occurred. Democrats Elmer C. Lippy Jr.
and Richard F. Will Sr. and Republicans Donald I. Dell and Richard Yates are the other candidates.
"Commissioners come and go, but like preachers and churches, the basic county government goes on," said William V. Lauterbach Jr., commissioner from 1982 to 1986 and current county Planning and Zoning Commission chairman. "Most of the candidates are aware of the problems. If they take the advice of the professional staff, they should be able to work them out."
Sylvia Canon, director of Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., said she hopes the new board will continue progress made by the current board in social programs, such as homeless shelters.
"This board of commissioners has been responsive," she said. "There's been so much good work done. I can't see trashing it and starting over."
All the candidates have pledged to be full-time commissioners, as Gouge says she has been, and to manage effectively. Dell said Robert A. "Max" Bair, executive assistant to the commissioners, would play a crucial role initially in educating new commissioners on issues.