Opponents target Dell on growth

September 04, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Voters aren't hearing Carroll Commissioner Donald I. Dell say "Keep it Country" this year. His opponents are spouting his catchy slogan -- and using it against him.

Mr. Dell, a Republican running for a second term, is the candidate most under attack by opponents in the race for three commissioner seats.

Three of his opponents -- two of whom said they supported him four years ago -- have criticized Mr. Dell for not living up to his promise to help control growth.

"I voted for him in 1990 because I bought that slogan," said Democrat Cornelius M. "Neil" Ridgely, one of Mr. Dell's most vocal opponents. "I'm very angry with myself for how I blew my vote. I feel deceived."

Mr. Ridgely, who has been a county employee for five years, said he is running to unseat Mr. Dell. He opposes Mr. Dell's proposal to extend Interstate 795 through Carroll, in part because the new road could cut into his property in Finksburg, and has criticized Mr. Dell's suggestion to build an incinerator to burn county garbage.

He also said Mr. Dell has advocated for developers at the expense of the environment. Mr. Ridgely, the county's landscape and forest conservation manager, is charged with enforcing the county law to preserve trees, which Mr. Dell does not support and many developers have opposed.

Mr. Ridgely takes every opportunity to mention Mr. Dell's former slogan.

"Last time, one person with a catchy slogan make a lot of promises. It's important to 'Keep it Country,' but it's important to keep our promises," he said at a public forum last month.

Five Democrats and five Republicans are running for commissioner in the Sept. 13 primary. Three from each party will advance to the November election.

Republican W. Benjamin Brown, the Westminster mayor, also has been a vocal opponent of Mr. Dell after supporting him in 1990.

"I thought he was a very level-headed person. I like him personally, but I disagree with him on so many issues," Mr. Brown said.

He and Mr. Dell often have clashed about the county's trash collection and recycling. Mr. Brown wants the commissioners to establish a countywide system in which private haulers would collect in districts. Residents now contract on their own with haulers, an arrangement that Mr. Dell said works fine.

Mr. Brown also wants the county to make recycling mandatory, which the commissioners have not done.

In newspaper advertisements, Mr. Brown takes a crack at the "Keep it Country" slogan.

"Slogans alone, no matter how well meant, won't 'keep' it anything," he wrote. Mr. Brown's slogan is "Carroll County . . . better, not just bigger."

Mr. Dell, a Westminster farmer, said a campaign worker suggested the "Keep it Country" motto for the 1986 commissioner race, which he lost. Mr. Dell also lost in 1982.

"I was dumb about politics -- and still am," he said about his decision to use the controversial slogan. "I had reservations about it."

He hesitated "because I was saying no development, and I knew there was very little one commissioner could do."

He said he has done what he could to protect Carroll's countryside by supporting the state agriculture preservation program and the county critical farms program. He said he would like to spend more money on those programs.

"Beyond that, there's not much you can do to keep it country," Mr. Dell said.

This year, his slogan is "Proven Leadership."

Democrat David A. Grand of Westminster is another critic of Mr. Dell. The retired federal government worker volunteered in the county budget and auditing offices for a year. During that time, he said, he talked with several hundred employees who told him they are unhappy with how the county operates. They said there is no communication from the top down.

"The people want to know what the priorities are. There's so much inertia there you could cut it with a knife," he said.

Mr. Grand blames Mr. Dell, not the other two commissioners -- Democrat Elmer C. Lippy and Republican Julia W. Gouge. Mr. Lippy is running again; Mrs. Gouge is a lieutenant governor candidate.

The commissioner form of government has allowed Mr. Dell to impose his "strong personality" on the board, Mr. Grand said. With a three-commissioner board, a leader must convince only one other commissioner to vote with him in order to pass an initiative.

Mr. Grand and Mr. Brown both see Mr. Lippy as Mr. Dell's sidekick.

"Elmer seems to follow Donald around," Mr. Brown said. "Donald takes the strong positions, and Elmer seems to go along."

As a result, most of the criticism is directed at Mr. Dell.

"Donald's getting the brunt of it because he's sort of the leader," Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Lippy has denied that he follows Mr. Dell's lead without question. He said he has disagreed with Mr. Dell on the forest conservation law and the I-795 extension, among other issues.

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