Panel faces issues, unity New commissioners must work together to address growth

Gouge sees 'a good team'

Current board has been unable to compromise

November 05, 1998|By John Murphy | John Murphy,SUN STAFF

When the new Board of County Commissioners takes office next month, it will be faced with a tall order of problems, including growth control, economic development and taxes.

It will not only be important what decisions commissioners make, but how they make them, one local political analyst says.

"I think they are going to probably try to work out their differences quietly because if they become explosive it will hurt all of them. The pressure is there to do something about planning," said Donald R. Jansiewicz, professor of political science at Carroll Community College.

"I think that the time for petty quarreling is long since past. [Residents] don't want to be going home along huge, crowded roads. They want government to do something about this. They don't want them arguing."

Incumbent Donald I. Dell, Julia Walsh Gouge and Robin Bartlett Frazier have said they can meet that challenge. All said they are confident the board would have a "harmonious" relationship.

"Although we are three independent thinkers, we can't always think alike. We have to learn to get along and learn to negotiate and compromise," Gouge said.

Dell stressed that communication among board members will be instrumental to the board's success. Some of that communication might need to be behind closed doors, he said.

"I'm willing and I think the other two are willing to sit down and have discussion, which rarely happened with the current board," said Dell.

"The board needs to do that to get a feel for what we all think. An executive meeting if we have to. The public ought to accept the fact that commissioners need that time together," he said, adding the issues would be voted on in public.

Gouge agreed some closed meetings would be necessary, but only when allowed under the law.

Frazier could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Talking and working together is not something the current board of commissioners has done well, Dell said.

"We've had differences of opinion. And when [W. Benjamin] Brown didn't get his way he went to the press and cried about it. If you can't compromise and work together you shouldn't be in office," Dell said.

The new commissioners agree on many issues: All have said attracting new businesses and expanding existing businesses would be a priority. All support agricultural land preservation. All would like to reduce property taxes, but don't think it can be done now.

Divided on development

The new board is split on the adequate facilities law, which restricts residential development to 1,000 homes per year. Dell and Frazier have said the county can absorb 1,000 new residential units a year.

Gouge plans to evaluate the plan after a year.

"No, we're not coming from the same positions," Gouge said. "I think we're in the mess we're in with the overcrowded roads and schools because adequate facilities have not kept pace. Let growth happen, but happen within bounds."

Jansiewicz said Frazier will be welcomed by developers.

"From what I understand, candidate Frazier is very committed to property rights. That's good news for developers. It restricts the capacity for government to guide development," he said.

Dell and Frazier have been close politically. Dell appointed Frazier to the county planning commission and Frazier served as Dell's campaign treasurer in the 1994 election.

Jansiewicz expects subtle differences between Dell and Frazier in their approach to development. In those cases, Gouge might cast the deciding vote.

"I expect how [Gouge] goes with development will probably set a tone. There are three players. She ran the strongest so there is a lot of support for her. I think if there are subtle differences between Frazier and Dell, she is going to break the tie," he said.

Gouge won 22 percent of the vote. Dell and Frazier earned 18 percent.

'A real contender'

If Frazier and Dell join forces, will that put Gouge on the outs?

Not necessarily, Jansiewicz said.

"I do think she will be able to effectively mobilize some public opinion, because she comes in strategically in an important zTC position because of how well she did. There could be a coalition between Frazier and Dell, but I think that Gouge is going to be a real contender," he said.

Gouge said she thinks that Jansiewicz assessment is "pretty accurate."

Yesterday, she said she spoke with Dell and Frazier. They agreed Gouge would serve as commissioner president, a position that traditionally goes to the highest vote-getter. She hopes other decisions will go as well.

"I'm looking at it with an optimistic point of view that we have to make it work. It's a good team," she said.

Pub Date: 11/05/98

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