Official's kin not focus of inquiry, panel says

Ethics commission rebuts claim Gouge's daughter was investigated by group

Carroll County

August 22, 2002|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Ethics Commission rebutted yesterday claims that its recent investigation of Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge unfairly extended to Gouge's daughter.

"Our ethics ordinance does not govern private citizens who are not employees or officers of the county," wrote committee spokesman and member James F.W. Talley. "This has been understood and meticulously honored since the adoption of the ordinance at issue. The investigation focused on the commissioner, not on any private citizen."

The investigation stemmed from a confrontation in December between Jill Gebhart and contractor Charles Stambaugh, who was installing a sewer line to Gebhart's business, Jill's Jams and Jellies in Hampstead. The contractor alleged in a letter to the county that Gebhart invoked her mother's name in asking him to leave her property and threatened that he would lose his bond on county contracts.

Stambaugh requested action from the county's appointed Ethics Commission, which then questioned witnesses throughout the winter and spring about Gouge's involvement with her daughter's business, according to Gouge and several county employees who appeared before the commission.

"How many tax dollars were wasted on an investigation that should never have taken place?" Gebhart asked in a letter to The Sun last week. "Am I a victim by association?"

Critics of the commission and a local newspaper have since suggested that the commission overstepped its bounds by investigating Gebhart, a private citizen.

"There really was no sense to investigating Jill," Gouge said. "She is not a county employee. This was an invasion of her privacy."

The commission had to document the confrontation between Gebhart and Stambaugh as part of its investigation of Gouge, Talley countered in his letter yesterday, but Gebhart was never the target.

Talley also confirmed that other allegations arose against Gouge during the investigations, but said those allegations have proved inconclusive.

"By state law, I cannot affirm or deny the possibility or probability of a continued investigation," he said in an interview.

Critics of the commission also have questioned why Sue Primoff, wife of commissioner candidate and Gouge opponent Ed Primoff, was allowed to participate in the investigation of Gouge.

Primoff has removed herself from discussion of the Gouge investigation since her husband filed his candidacy, Talley said.

Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.

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