Different Doors Open To Differing Degrees

December 02, 1990|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff writer

Beefs. Gripes. Complaints. Problems.

The County Commissioners heard a lot of them from residents during the past four years.

Did the commissioners listen? Respond? Act like they cared?

Usually they did, although it often took persistence to get them to that point, leaders of citizens groups and others who dealt regularly with the commissioners said.

The citizens, including developers, mayors and environmentalists, say they want to be kept informed about county dealings and to be involved in decision-making when they have a stake in the outcome.

"The people need to play a part. The commissioners can't help anyone unless the people speak out," said Kurt Harden of Gaither, leader of the newly formed Southern Carroll County Citizens Group.

David Duree, spokesman for NETWORK, a coalition of four community groups in northwest Carroll, said, "Local government is closest to the people when it hears from them, listens to them and responds to them."

Commissioners Jeff Griffith and Julia W. Gouge were generally accessible and willing to listen to concerns, said Linda Cunfer, co-chairperson of the New Windsor Community Action Program, but Commissioner President John L.

Armacost was not.

"The commissioners have made it clear they appreciate us being part of the process," she said.

However, Armacost resisted their efforts to meet with him, she said.

Duree added, "There was not an open door, but he was very pleasant on social occasions."

Susan D. Hardinger, president of People Against Contamination of the Environment, said Griffith was the most willing and Armacost the least willing to work with her group.

PACE was formed in 1984 after residents in North Carroll became concerned that their water was being contaminated by the Keystone Landfill just over the Pennsylvania line in Adams County.

"Basically, Mr. Armacost over the years denied there was a problem," Hardinger said.

Armacost doesn't dispute this. He said studies have shown that contaminated water from the landfill flows into Pennsylvania, not Maryland.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing a cleanup of the landfill area. Tests have shown contamination in monitoring wells and at least one stream in Carroll.

Armacost said he preferred that the commissioners deal with citizens groups as a board because any business brought to one commissioner should be brought before them all.

"We were accessible to them as a commission, not on a one-to-one basis.

It's a group vs. a group," he said.

Gouge, the only incumbent on the new board, didn't offer much support to PACE during her first three years in office, Hardinger said.

"We kept looking for ways to make her understand we were real live people who needed help," she said.

In the past year, however, Gouge was more receptive and willing to write letters and make calls on the group's behalf, she noted.

"That means so much for a community," Hardinger said, adding that she wondered whether Gouge's interest was linked to her bid for re-election.

"But it doesn't bother me if someone wants to work for my vote."

Gouge said that when she came into office, county and state officials told her the Keystone Landfill wasn't a problem for Carroll residents. But after touring the area and learning more about the situation, she said she became convinced there could be a problem.

Gouge said the New Windsor group and other citizens groups have helped educate her on issues she otherwise wouldn't have had time to study.

"I've found by being upfront and honest with people on the issues and also being open-minded that I've learned a lot," she said.

Griffith said it was important for citizens to be involved in decision-making.

"They own the government, not the other way around," he said.

Home builders in the county have found the commissioners more receptive to their input this year, two members of the county chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland said.

The county government alienated builders by adopting an impact fee in May 1989 without including builders in the decision-making process, said Gary B. Blucher, past president of the Carroll chapter.

The relationship improved this year after the commissioners included builders in discussions and studies about a possible fee increase, he said.

Chapter president Mike Maholchic said, "What happened was we learned to work together a lot better and learned to understand each other's needs and concerns."

The commissioners in September did not approve a proposed increase in the impact fee, which is paid by developers to help finance new public facilities.

Cindy J. Fisher, spokeswoman for the Housing Coalition, a group working to promote affordable housing and help the county homeless, said she was frustrated by a lack of communication from the commissioners.

The commissioners never responded to a request from the coalition to meet and discuss a county report on affordable housing, she said.

"We're not about being adversarial and pushy, but we do want to see things move and happen," she said.

Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown said improved communication with mayors of the county's eight municipalities could go a long way toward easing town-county tensions.

Sykesville Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. said municipal officials may hire a part-time "agent" to keep them apprised of county business that would affect municipalities.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.