No Special Treatment for Politicians

February 24, 1994

When elected government officials expect special consideration from government enforcement officers that is not accorded other citizens, they are asking for trouble.

Carroll County Commissioner Julia W. Gouge was wrong to expect the county's Bureau of Storm Water Management and Sediment Control to give her preferential treatment when its inspectors requested that she and her husband, Jesse, correct a wetlands violation on their Hampstead farm.

The source of the problem is a large pile of dirt that sits next to a stream that runs through the property. A panoply of federal, state and county regulations governs any movement of soil in or near streams and other wetlands. Any disturbance must be done in a manner than minimizes runoff and damage to aquatic life.

In Mrs. Gouge's case, the dirt was removed from the stream and piled nearby. Because the area is classified as wetlands, the dirt should have been removed and the entire area seeded and mulched. County inspectors spoke with Mrs. Gouge about the problem in December but she did not agree to correct it until January. With the spate of cold weather and ice storms, the Gouges have been unable to move the pile, and it is now frozen solid.

Mrs. Gouge complained to Gale Smith, the county's chief sediment control inspector, that her office treated her in a very formal manner. The commissioner was upset that she received the notice through the mail rather than personally. She even questioned the bureau's authority to intervene in the matter.

The storm water bureau did its job and followed its standard practices. Once the office received a complaint, its inspector immediately investigated, notified the landowner with a phone call and followed up with a letter. When it appeared no corrective action was taken, inspectors contacted the Gouges again. All these actions were appropriate.

While Mrs. Gouge is a commissioner, she is also a citizen subject to county laws. Mrs. Gouge apparently thought that her position entitled her to special consideration. She could not be more mistaken. Rather than excoriating Ms. Smith and her staff, Mrs. Gouge should thank them for doing their jobs and then apologize for her intemperate remarks.

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