Commissioners accused of 'micro-management'

August 28, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

The status quo in county government has got to go, say many challengers for Carroll commissioner seats. Two of the three incumbents agree some change is needed.

Commissioners are micro-managing county business and postponing important policy decisions, say the critics, including a former commissioner. They also say residents often are unable to participate in government because most meetings occur during the day.

Carroll government is run by "an old-boy network" that has seen its day, some say.

This year's election will guarantee change regardless of who is ,, elected because one incumbent is not seeking re-election. Commissioner Julia W. Gouge, a Republican, is a candidate for lieutenant governor.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell, a Republican, and Elmer C. Lippy, a Democrat, are running for second four-year terms.

Five Democrats and an equal number of Republicans are running for commissioner in the Sept. 13 primary. Three candidates from each party will advance to the November general election.

"The old guard is losing its power," said G. Herbert Rice Jr. of Westminster, a Republican who was commissioner from 1970 to 1974.

Carroll continues to change as the population grows, and government must adapt, said Mr. Rice, who keeps an eye on the situation from his farm on Uniontown Road. The former Exxon Corp. manager said the county should be operated similar to a business.

"Right now, the county is being run like a ship without a rudder or without a captain," he said. "It's being run by committee."

During the past few years, the commissioners have appointed committees to study how garbage should be collected and whether the county should build an incinerator to burn garbage. Committees also were asked whether a new jail should be built, whether the county should start a police force and whether the emergency communications systems should be revamped.

None of the issues has been resolved.

Mrs. Gouge, in her second term as commissioner, has frequently criticized her colleagues. During the 1986-1990 term, when she served with Republican John L. Armacost and Democrat J. Jeffrey Griffith, she often was the swing vote.

Mr. Armacost and Mr. Griffith many times took opposite stands on issues, leaving her to cast the deciding vote. On this board, Mr. Dell and Mr. Lippy often vote together, and her vote stands alone.

Gouge criticizes 'studying'

Mrs. Gouge said the current board makes fewer decisions than the previous board, despite adding a third meeting day to the weekly schedule. One reason could be that the county has had less money to spend in recent years because of the recession, Mrs. Gouge said. But Mr. Dell's "hands-on" approach has slowed the process, she said.

"It seems we spend an extraordinary amount of time studying the issues, restudying the issues and going back and studying them again. We seem to do more of that and still not make decisions," she said.

Mr. Dell said he likes being involved in almost everything that goes on in county government. He often appears at a staff member's office to discuss an issue.

"I pretty much take recommendations from the staff, but I'm interested, not because I want to be dictatorial, but I'm interested in what's happening and how it's happening," he said.

"I see it as being a full-time job. I don't want to neglect the citizens."

He said he would not change his management style if re-elected.

"I like being busy in the job because it helps me understand how the county works," he said.

Mr. Lippy said he would like to make a few changes if he wins a second term.

"I am a hands-on person, but probably not as much as Donald. There should be more delegation of authority. We should rely more on the skill -- and there's ample skill around here -- of the [department] directors," he said.

In addition to discussing long-range issues, the commissioners must deal with daily matters. They visit development sites, discuss whether speed limits should be changed on curves on certain roads, approve applications for grants of several thousand dollars and decide where recycling bins should be.

Employee runs

One candidate has seen for himself how the commissioners operate. Democrat Cornelius M. "Neil" Ridgely of Finksburg has been a county employee for five years. He is the county's landscape and forest conservation manager.

"Micro-management has become a major factor in oppressing creative thinking. People are constantly second-guessed here," he said.

Mr. Ridgely said he would work full time as commissioner, if elected.

"It also is my intention to return it to being more of a policy-making function," he said of the commissioner job. "It's time to give the boot to the good-old-boys system that has controlled the county for too long."

Democrat David A. Grand of Westminster also has seen county government from the inside. He did volunteer work in the budget and auditing offices for about a year. He is a retired federal government worker.

He chided the commissioners for being on the "sidelines" of important issues.

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