Commissioners look amiable amid animosity 'Petty things' cause problems on board

January 24, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

The three Carroll County commissioners are on their best behavior in public. They chat amiably at staff meetings and laugh at most of Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy's frequent jokes.

But behind the scenes they appear more like a dysfunctional family. Animosity has built up, they say.

One woman with higher political ambitions is pitted against two men who criticize her for often being absent from meetings. The three disagree about whether they should debate potholes and speed limits or concentrate on long-term planning. They argue over whose secretary should do what.

There is "bad chemistry," Mr. Lippy, a retired chemist, says at the midpoint of the board's four-year term.

"It's petty things that cause problems," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge appears the most dissatisfied with the way the board operates.

Mrs. Gouge, a Republican, former Realtor and Hampstead mayor and councilwoman, is in her second term as commissioner. On the last board, she held the key vote and was seen as a moderate voice between Republican John Armacost on the right and Democrat Jeff Griffith on the left.

The situation is different now. Mrs. Gouge becomes the odd commissioner out because Mr. Dell, a Republican, and Mr. Lippy, a Democrat, often vote as a bloc.

Mrs. Gouge said part of the reason she has trouble getting along with the other two commissioners is because of an age difference and a difference in philosophy about how to run county government.

Mrs. Gouge, 52, said other problems stem from the fact that she's a woman and Mr. Dell, 67, and Mr. Lippy, 72, find it hard to work with a woman as an equal.

Mr. Dell said that isn't true, but he added, "Someone else looking at it might say there is a problem. Self-assessment is not always the best."

Mr. Lippy said he has long advocated equal rights for women: "I am not a sexist at all."

Mr. Dell said he and Mr. Lippy get along "even better than we expected." He attributed their friendship to the fact that they are about the same age, are both Carroll natives and are "still rural people."

"We built a friendship," Mr. Dell said.

Mr. Lippy agreed that the two are good friends.

The men have become "unbelievably close," Mrs. Gouge said. They travel together to meetings, and they and their wives socialize together, she said.

"They confer with each other on all kinds of issues early in the morning and through the day," she said.

"Commissioner Lippy and I are constantly together, and we discuss things," Mr. Dell said.

Mrs. Gouge has complained that some decisions are made without her, that she is not told of them until days or weeks later.

Mr. Lippy, who cites as an accomplishment that this board has added a third working day to its schedule, said there are times when decisions must be made and Mrs. Gouge is not around.

"The fact is, sometimes we cannot wait," he said.

"We still are not considered three equals," Mrs. Gouge said. "I'm often told by Elmer and Donald that they will 'let me' do things."

When talking about Mrs. Gouge's work on the airport expansion project and economic development in an interview, Mr. Dell used that phrase. He said he "let" Mrs. Gouge continue as the leader in these areas during the first year of their term.

"They forget I was here for four years and had time to make associa

tions, to see problems and to work on those problems," she said.

"I think she was ingrained into more or less running her own show here [during her last term], and Donald and I resist that," Mr. Lippy said.

Mr. Lippy said he believes Mrs. Gouge has the best interests of the county at heart.

"Julia and I respect each other, even though on some issues we have spats and tantrums are thrown."

He attributes this to similar personalities.

"We both like to out-ham each other," Mr. Lippy said.

Mrs. Gouge is more active in governmental and political activities outside the county than Mr. Dell and Mr. Lippy. She often travels to Annapolis for meetings and has been criticized for being away from Carroll too much.

Mrs. Gouge said that Mr. Lippy and Mr. Dell try to "belittle" her work with outside groups such as the Maryland Association of Counties and the Local Government Insurance Trust.

Her work with these groups helps Carroll County, she said. As first vice president of MACo, she is helping shape policy at the state level to benefit the county. With LGIT, she has helped get the county lower insurance rates, she said.

Mr. Lippy bristles at the suggestion that he follows Mr. Dell's lead.

"I've been accused of following Donald around like a puppy dog," but it's not true, he said.

He said he recently disagreed with Mr. Dell on the decision to write a county forest conservation ordinance and on a decision to condemn a piece of property to the benefit of a Finksburg farmer.

Mrs. Gouge said Mr. Dell and Mr. Lippy take their titles as board president and vice president too seriously. The titles are ceremonial, she said.

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