Commissioner campaign opens in public forum

15 in race for 3 positions, including all incumbents

Primary election Sept. 10

Water, growth, image among prime topics

July 14, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

One candidate passed out packets of flower seeds, making the point that Carroll County's gateways should be more beautiful. Another wore Old Glory on his tie and said he has dreamed of serving the people since he was a kid - just a few years ago.

Two incumbents who rarely see eye to eye sat side by side and barely spoke. Speaker after speaker promised to control growth, manage growth or slow growth. Everyone vowed to polish the county's image and run the government like an efficient business.

The campaign is on.

More than a dozen candidates are running for the three seats on the county board of commissioners. And the first skirmish came Friday, when they traveled to a bowling alley in Taneytown for an early-morning candidates forum.

The field includes farmers, bankers, a mayor, a planning commissioner, a town councilwoman, a one-time town manager, a state trooper turned drug-enforcement officer, several community activists and a former newspaper columnist. Ten are Republicans, three are Democrats, one is an independent and another represents the Green Party.

Incumbent Commissioner Donald I. Dell, home recuperating from surgery, and former newspaper columnist Dean Minnich, on vacation, missed the first volleys Friday. That left 13 to promote their personas, defend their platforms and outwit opponents.

Participants had to rise early - 5 a.m. for Republican David Brauning, who had to first feed his cows - to make the trek to Thunderhead Bowl & Family Fun Center. They had the 7 a.m. hour to schmooze, hand out literature and dine on scrambled eggs and bacon before the real grilling began promptly at 8 a.m.

They sat, before an audience of about 130, in alphabetical order, except for Benjamin Perricone, whose tardy response to the invitation earned him the end-of-the-line spot.

The arrangement left commissioners "Frazier, Robin Bartlett" and "Gouge, Julia Walsh," who have rarely agreed on anything in the past four years, sitting next to each other. Their interaction was virtually limited to passing the microphone.

"This is a beautiful county that everyone wants to come to, but we need to stick to our goal of preserving 100,000 acres of farmland," said Gouge. Later she added, "If we allow growth to continue, it will sprawl out of control and taxes will have to go up to support it."

Preserving the county's rural vistas was a common theme at the forum. Gouge was one of several candidates calling for improved communication and cooperation with Carroll's eight municipalities.

Frazier pointed to her record on economic development and said that Carroll is fifth in the nation for preserving farmland and leads the country in "farm management practices." She complained that time constraints left candidates little opportunity to expound on ideas.

"These things are always informational, but we usually can't explain an issue in detail," said Frazier.

Each candidate had three minutes for an introduction, two minutes to talk about handling growth and another two to solve Carroll's water woes. A minute was left for each to discuss how to improve the county's image.

A timer's bell interrupted anyone who exceeded the time limits, enforced by forum organizer Nancy McCormick, Taneytown's economic development director. If the timer failed to halt a speaker, McCormick had a red flag on standby.

"This flag is not a signal to attract bull," she told the candidates. "It means `Don't continue.'"

Candidate Ed Primoff called himself "a conservative Republican with a strong background in business who can accomplish great things. But that's hard in three minutes."

Primoff displayed an oversized photo of an upscale shopping center about to open in Frederick and said, "We could have had it here, if people had listened to me."

Many had rehearsed their introductions. A few speakers were timid, admittedly unaccustomed to a spot in the public eye. Some were breathless, fast talkers, condensing decades of their lives before the buzzer.

A few stopped mid-sentence at the timer.

"If I get buzzed, see my handout," said Democrat Neil Ridgely.

Humor had its place.

"I always dreamt about being commissioner ever since I was in middle school 10 years ago," said 24-year-old Republican Henry G. Griese IV, a substitute teacher in the county school system.

Democrat Betty Smith said, "I have a mental health degree that I hear will be really helpful in this job."

Although there were no personal attacks, the challengers criticized the incumbents, particularly on the issue of growth. Democrat Jeannie Nichols said, "We have managed growth here, but it's managed by developers and landowners."

Brauning, vice chairman of the Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission, said that panel is so hampered it should be called the "Reaction Commission." Brauning called for "wise growth."

In the course of gathering the nearly 1,000 signatures required of independent candidates, Vince DePalmer said, "I talked to 3,000 people and they don't like what is going on. They want it fixed."

To improve Carroll's poor relations with state officials, DePalmer said he would invite whoever is elected governor to a spaghetti dinner at his Manchester home.

Ideas cropped up throughout the morning. Green Party candidate George W. Murphy III said he would support incorporation of Eldersburg and Finksburg. "The commissioners abuse power, and I want to give power away to more towns," said Murphy.

Smith promised that every portable classroom would disappear. Perricone, a Republican, would finance the next generation of farmers. Ridgely, who passed out the seeds, promoted the redevelopment of old buildings such as the vacant Hampstead Elementary School.

Union Bridge Mayor Perry Jones, who became a Republican two months ago, said all Carroll's grand image needs is a little promotion.

"Look in your tourism books and tell your family and friends to come on over," Jones said.

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