Outvoted, 2-1, is familiar role in Carroll

As `voice of reason,' commissioner often left in the minority

October 23, 2001|By Brenda J. Buote and Childs Walker | Brenda J. Buote and Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge pursed her lips tighter and tighter last month as she watched fellow Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier thwart her once more.

The three were discussing widening and repaving Hollenberry Road near Sykesville, the street county trucks would take to the proposed Piney Run Lake water treatment plant. State environmental officials have so far told the county they will not allow the plant project, and without that approval, Gouge said of Hollenberry, "we could have a road that goes nowhere."

Once again, though, Dell and Frazier outvoted her 2-1, allocating $481,000 to rebuild Hollenberry Road in the latest of a string of decisions supporting the use of Piney Run Lake as a drinking-water source.

That 2-1 vote fits a pattern of the past several years, when Gouge has become conservative Carroll's most prominent moderate dissenter. She has voted against every issue related to the Piney Run plant, from the tapping of the lake to the recent Hollenberry Road expansion.

Gouge was also in the minority when she voted against a recent zoning change that would allow farmers to transfer development rights on their property.

She was outvoted when Dell and Frazier decided last year to purchase a plot of Union Bridge farmland known as the Lease property for $850,000, more than six times the property's appraised value. The land was needed to build road and railway spurs to Lehigh Portland Cement Co.'s new plant.

"She is the voice of reason where there isn't one," said Ross Dangel, an Eldersburg resident and member of the Freedom Area Citizens Committee, which has worked closely with Gouge on the Piney Run issue. "She votes her conscience at great personal sacrifice, both in the Republican Party and with her commissioner colleagues. Julia is about listening to the people and making decisions after weighing the impact for everybody.

"She might always be the minority opinion, but she stands up for us," Dangel said. "She is the damn best thing we have."

Perhaps no vote hurt her more than her vote against the Rash brothers, who wanted to rezone their farm. On the day of that vote in 1999, Gouge followed her conscience - and lost good friends.

Edward Rash, one of three brothers who asked the commissioners to rezone 145 acres of South Carroll farmland for a golf community, was for many years close to Gouge. He and his first wife, Molly, worked on Gouge's first countywide campaign.

When the Rashes' rezoning petition came before the commissioners, Gouge, agonized over what to do. She believed the rezoning would violate Smart Growth principles but didn't want to hurt Rash.

She sought her husband's counsel. She prayed. She even pleaded with Rash to consider preserving the land, to no avail. In the end, she was told by a county attorney that she could no longer speak to Rash about the case.

On the day the commissioners voted to rezone the land - Gouge was the lone dissenter - she and Rash went their separate ways. They haven't spoken since.

Gouge's dissenting votes have not alienated her from most constituents, though, and might have made her a more popular figure on Carroll's political landscape.

"I think the people see her as a voice of reason because she's not asking for too much," said Donald Jansiewicz, a retired Carroll Community College political science professor. "She's saying, `Lets find a compromise. Let's find a way to make this work.' I think that's appreciated. She hasn't tied herself up in her own rhetoric. She's just plain trying to solve problems, which is what the job is all about."

Gouge's diplomacy has won her respect and, just as important, votes. In the 1998 election, she was the top vote-getter, earning her the title of board president.

Gouge, 61, describes herself as an honest moderate.

"I try to be open-minded," said the seventh-generation Carroll resident, who grew up on a grain and cattle farm in the village of Snydersburg between Hampstead and Westminster. "I try to understand where people are coming from and why it is they want what they want. There's more than one side to every issue. I've always felt that if you take the middle road, you can bring people from all sides together."

Others echoed Gouge's self-assessment.

"We don't agree on too many things, and we never have, but she's a hard worker and a very bright person. She certainly goes out of her way to be well-informed," said Jeff Griffith, a Democrat who served on the board of commissioners with Gouge in the late 1980s.

Gouge said she learned to be open-minded at her father's knee. Charles Carroll Walsh taught his five children the importance of listening to others and analyzing every angle of an issue. Gouge's mother, the former Bessie Rill, an active member of Maryland Cooperative Extension, instilled in her youngest child a love for nature and volunteer work.

For Gouge, politics seemed a potential extension of her community volunteer work.

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