Carroll commissioner's trip alarms some

Faith-based group sponsors conference

March 28, 2001|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Carroll County taxpayers are paying about $2,200 to fly Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier and two county employees to Michigan tomorrow for a conference sponsored by a fundamentalist Judeo-Christian group.

The three-day event is being sponsored by the International Association of Character Cities, an organization based in Oklahoma City that is dedicated to supporting government and community leaders who are committed to character development.

Formed in 1998, the group is a spinoff of the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a family ministry with headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., that offers seminars "based on the Biblical principles upon which the nation of the United States and its law system are founded."

A self-described "seminar ministry," the institute was founded by Bill Gothard about 40 years ago and urges youths to practice scriptural disciplines such as tithing, rising early and memorizing Scripture.

"Frankly, we think it's inappropriate for taxpayers to fund government officials going to events which are essentially outreach activities of a fundamentalist Judeo-Christian group in the most conservative sense," said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national government watchdog group based in Washington. "This is just a backdoor effort to get city and county government enmeshed in religious activities."

Frazier, who earlier this year was defeated in her bid to ban recreational activities on Sunday mornings, will be accompanied to the three-day conference in Flint, Mich., by Robert A. "Max" Bair, special assistant to the commissioners, and Jolene Sullivan, director of the county's citizen services.

Frazier's colleagues on the board, Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Donald I. Dell, strongly support the trip.

"This conference focuses on character building," said Dell. "Robin said she would like to go, and I was in agreement with her that one of us should go because if it's successful, it can only help us find solutions to the drug problem here in Carroll County. I think it's great that Robin wants to volunteer her time. She'll be away from her family. It seems we can't do anything without catching hell, even good things."

The "Building Cities of Character" conference will be attended by more than 400 elected officials from around the world, said Gerard Coury, director of IACC. He was not aware of any other Maryland official who has registered for the conference.

"Our goal here is to help these government leaders understand how they can develop character within their communities," Coury said. "We're equipping them with the training and tools they need to do that."

IACC focuses on 49 qualities that help build character, including responsibility, dependability, loyalty, truthfulness and gratefulness. The workshops, run by business leaders, mayors and city managers who have been trained by IACC, strive to show people how they can achieve these qualities.

Coury stressed that IACC does not promote Scripture and is now "separate and distinct" from the Institute in Basic Life Principles. IACC became an independent organization Feb. 1, Coury said, because of concerns about the separation of church and state. However, Coury acknowledged that the two groups "are still very close friends. ." The institute is the host of an IACC conference this week.

Frazier said she plans to attend a workshop that focuses on juvenile crime reduction. The workshop offers "practical, proven steps" on how to resolve the problems of young people who "reject character," according to an IACC brochure.

"I'm really excited about this conference," Frazier said. "It really dovetails nicely with everything we're trying to do with the [ACTIVE] Alliance. What I am hoping to gain is an understanding of how we promote our efforts and get everybody throughout our community to collaborate and work with one another on the problems we're facing."

For months, a coalition known as the ACTIVE - Adults and Children Together Improving Values and Ethics - Alliance for a Healthier Community has been trying to combat youth violence and alcohol and drug addiction in Carroll County. With the support of the commissioners, the group is calling for a range of programs, from faith-based marriage counseling to greater availability of long-term care for substance users.

The group's initiatives stemmed from the commissioners' strategic plan, a "to-do" list that calls for a "focus on youths and families" to "reduce the risk of crime and substance abuse."

"We looked at [this conference] as an investment in the future of our kids," Gouge said. "We have lots and lots of addicted kids. Somehow we've got to get a handle on it. What we spent on one conference was, in my mind, going to be much less expensive than what we would spend on one child in treatment, so I'm comfortable with them going, even if it's faith-based."

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