New board takes office Commissioners talk of forging better ties with state delegation

December 08, 1998|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The new Board of County Commissioners began their first day in office yesterday by talking about the need for "open government" and a dialogue between local leaders and the county's state delegation.

"Any meetings we have will be advertised for the public and the press," said Julia Walsh Gouge, president of the new board and a former two-term commissioner. "If a meeting is closed, we will explain why it is closed. This will be an open government."

Gouge also spoke of her desire to meet with the delegation on a regular basis.

"I'm hoping to reinstate some of the things I did when I was in office before. I'd like to go to Annapolis and meet with members of the delegation every week or week and a half," Gouge said.

"It would give them an opportunity, if they're putting bills in, to tell us what they're doing, and we could keep them up to date with issues in Carroll County."

It is an idea that both Donald I. Dell, who is serving his third consecutive term, and Robin Bartlett Frazier, a new face on the board, have said they would favor.

"I would strongly favor any measure that encourages an open dialogue" between the commissioners and state delegation, said Frazier, a Manchester resident and former planning commission member.

The commissioners' comments, made yesterday during the first public meeting of the new board, come on the heels of a controversy over the former board's decision to raise the daily allowance of its members 650 percent, from $12 to $90.

The decision, made in a closed session Nov. 24, drew criticism from the public and state politicians, sparking the latest in a litany of political spats that often pitted the former board of commissioners against members of the county's state delegation.

The former commissioners said the delegation treated them like "pariahs." The delegation said the commissioners' problems were of their own making, the result of "poor judgment."

In Carroll, there is no county executive -- three part-time commissioners must ask the delegation for permission to pass most legislation.

At times during the former board's four-year term, the fighting was so bad that the county's delegation and the commissioners barely spoke to one another. They met at official functions and for televised interviews, but communicated little beyond that.

Political upstaging

The squabbling started before the former commissioners took office in 1994, when W. Benjamin Brown upstaged Sen. Larry E. Haines, head of the county's state delegation, at a campaign stop in Westminster.

As the story goes, gubernatorial candidate Ellen R. Sauerbrey, U.S. Senate candidate William Brock, U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Brown and Haines were kicking off a six-hour campaign tour through Carroll County on Oct. 1, 1994, when Brown committed a political faux pas.

Instead of following the planned program, Brown, who was then mayor of Westminster and campaigning for commissioner, introduced Sauerbrey to the small crowd that had gathered to hear the candidates speak. Haines was supposed to have that honor.

"I was the host. He was my guest," Haines said. "We had a printed program so that things would be done in order. He failed to follow the instructions on the program. I was very displeased."

After the "Whistle Stop Tour," Haines and Brown spoke to one another at public functions and appeared in a televised interview together, but their relationship was strained.

In 1995, Brown again upstaged Haines -- this time on the floor of the Senate.

At odds over a bill

Brown traveled to Annapolis and testified against a bill that Haines had sponsored. The legislation would have exempted thousands of acres of farmland from the county's adequate-facilities standards, which prohibit development until roads, schools and services can meet the demands of new housing.

Haines, a prominent real estate agent and Westminster Republican, submitted the bill to the legislature on behalf of the county's senators and delegates. The General Assembly approved the bill over the objections of Brown, Commissioner Richard T. Yates and local growth-control advocates. Glendening vetoed the measure.

At the time, Brown criticized Haines and the other lawmakers: "The legislators should not interject into local affairs," he said.

Soon after Brown made that comment, the delegation proposed increasing the number of county commissioners to five.

Brown saw the expansion proposal of 1996 as an "unfortunate fallout" from the farm-bill flap.

The proposal was made as voters were considering a proposal to replace the commissioners with a county council and an executive. Doing away with the commission form of government would have diluted the delegation's power in Annapolis.

County voters decided to leave things as they were. The commissioners stayed; the board's membership remained at three.

4 The issue at the heart of the skirmishes: Power.

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