Dysfunctional Commissioners CARROLL COUNTY

January 27, 1993

Carroll County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy calls it "bad chemistry," but it may take a psychologist rather than a chemist to repair the relations between the board's two male members and the lone female commissioner.

After suppressing her unhappiness over board relations for nearly two years, Julia W. Gouge has publicly complained that Mr. Lippy and Donald I. Dell aren't giving her much respect.

She claims they have deliberately excluded her from decision-making sessions and kept her in the dark for days, and sometimes weeks, on decisions the two had made. Judging from Kerry O'Rourke's report Sunday in The Sun, it appears as though Mrs. Gouge no longer will quietly tolerate the dismissive treatment she has been receiving.

Part of the problem is that Mrs. Gouge, who is serving her second term as commissioner, does not play the pivotal role she did during her first term. She was the swing vote back then, between Republican John Armacost and Democrat Jeff Griffith. In order to make a decision, they needed her vote and would court her. Even though Mr. Lippy and Mr. Dell belong to different political parties, they see eye-to-eye on most issues. As a result, Mrs. Gouge's vote isn't necessary most times to gain a majority.

Compounding the problem is that Mr. Dell and Mr. Lippy have become fast friends. They travel and socialize together. They are close in age, share similar outlooks on life and don't seem to feel comfortable treating a woman as an equal. For those reasons, the men probably don't fully realize the extent to which they have excluded Mrs. Gouge. For her part, Mrs. Gouge didn't protest the freeze-out publicly because she didn't want her constituents to dismiss her as a carping woman.

Some of the commissioners' most bitter disputes have taken place behind closed doors over internal office matters rather than policy questions. On some of the most contentious policy issues, Mrs. Gouge was in Annapolis attending meetings of the Maryland Association of Counties or the Local Government Insurance Trust. It appeared to the public as though she were neglecting business at home.

Mrs. Gouge will have to be more aggressive if she is to make her presence felt. Mr. Lippy and Mr. Dell, meanwhile, must accept the reality that theirs is a board of three equal commissioners, not two.

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