Women's group wanted a say, not controversy

February 13, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

The women who worked to start a Carroll County Commission for Women didn't want to create a million-dollar fund or overthrow the county government.

They wanted the county's blessing -- and maybe some office space and a phone -- to help women solve certain problems and to keep women's issues high on the local politicians' agendas.

They expected some opposition in a conservative county such as Carroll, but were surprised at the vehement statements made at a public hearing last month.

"Listening to that forum, you would have thought this was a new political party," said Del. Lawrence A. LaMotte, a Democrat who represents Carroll and Baltimore counties.

"Right now, the forces of intolerance are very real. It is not politically correct to be tolerant -- at least not in Carroll County," he said.

Mr. LaMotte, at 44 the youngest member of the Carroll legislative delegation and the only liberal, was the only one of the six-member delegation to vote to introduce a bill requested by the county commissioners to create a Carroll women's commission.

Carroll County does not have home rule, so the commissioners must ask the delegation to introduce certain legislation.

After the defeat, Mr. LaMotte promised to introduce his own women's commission bill. On Friday, he introduced House Bill 1423 and the measure was assigned to the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee. A hearing date will be set later.

"I want the people of Carroll County to come down here and make their case. You'll have both sides down here," Mr. LaMotte said.

The women's commission would not be unique. The state and 13 counties, including the four west of Carroll, have women's commissions.

Organizers had counted on Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Carroll Democrat, to support them. In August, when the women announced their plan, he said a women's commission was needed.

"It's about time for us. It's the right thing to do," he said then.

But he voted against introducing the legislation.

"In the beginning, I thought it was a concept that would work in this county, but I just changed my mind," he said recently.

Before the delegation voted against introducing the bill, Mr. Dixon offered two amendments. He said that the women's commission should not receive any county money or in-kind services and that the county commissioners should appoint 10 instead of seven members of the 15-member commission.

Asked why he didn't suggest the changes at the public hearing five days before the delegation meeting Jan. 27, Mr. Dixon said, "Saturday, I was there to listen."

He said he didn't carefully read the proposed legislation until a day or two before the delegation meeting.

"My judgment is based on what's best for Carroll County," he said. "I changed my mind. Sometimes you have to change your mind."

He criticized Mr. LaMotte for promising to introduce a bill after the delegation voted it down.

"It's against our protocol," Mr. Dixon said. "Bills for Carroll County are voted on by the Carroll County delegation, period. To introduce a bill like that is more for political reasons."

But the residents who would benefit from the bill if it passes won't be able to vote for Mr. LaMotte in the next election. A redistricting plan drafted in 1991 removed all Carroll precincts from his district.

Said Mr. LaMotte: "Forget politics. It's the right thing to do.

"Government is primarily still run by a bunch of white males. No matter how attuned one might be, women do view and have different perspectives on issues like health care and economic issues."

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy, who supported the women's commission, said Friday, "I'm disappointed the legislators turned against a majority vote of the commissioners."

In October, the commissioners voted 2-1 to support a women's commission. Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted against it.

Mr. Lippy said Mr. Dixon introduced amendments to the proposed bill as "an escape mechanism."

"I can't understand Mr. Dixon," he said.

Virginia Harrison of Sykesville, a member of the women's commission steering committee, said Mr. Dixon switched his position after he realized how much opposition there was to the idea. If he supported the women's commission last summer, he should have supported it last month, she said.

At a public hearing on Jan. 22 attended by about 100 people, women's commission supporters said the organization would help women deal with economic, safety and health care issues. Opponents contended that the group would become a bureaucracy using taxpayers' money to advance a liberal agenda, which would include advocating abortion and lesbian rights.

"To what extent is this actually a political committee?" said opponent Donald Frazier of Manchester.

Uniontown resident Constance Bounds said, "I am concerned this commission would have too much power. I don't feel these women should have the right to counsel people in Carroll County. I want to see you put the right people in charge."

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