Gouge has twin hopes: re-election, new faces

Current colleagues' views on county growth issues frustrate commissioner

Carroll County

September 04, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge says she wants to strengthen growth controls, protect dwindling water resources, preserve more farmland and ensure the quality of life that drew people to this county. But she needs a fourth term on the board - and, she emphasizes, colleagues more supportive of her views.

Her goals are reachable, she says, because "the talent in Carroll County is amazing and there is variety in this community."

But achieving them will take planning and cooperation on the three-member board, a spirit that is lacking now, she adds.

In the campaign forums, Gouge has frequently said she would just as soon not sit between the same two people for another four years.

"I have often thought that the commissioner race should be nonpartisan, the way town councils are," Gouge, a Republican, says. "I have seen so much partisanship from commissioners of a like mind on this board."

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier, who are also seeking re-election, have countered that the current board works well together.

Gouge was the top vote-winner four years ago, an outcome that made her president of the commission board. But the title gave her little power and Gouge has often been at the losing end of a 2-1 vote on pivotal issues.

Dell and Frazier have outvoted Gouge on a proposed $16 million water treatment plant at Piney Run Reservoir in Sykesville, a contentious rezoning of farmland that drew the ire of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, and paying an inflated price for land to build road and railway spurs in Union Bridge.

Dell and Frazier criticized Gouge's efforts to intercede with the state on behalf of the county, but Gouge defends her efforts. "If we have respect for people in state office and try to work with them, good things will happen here," she says.

Her most vocal primary opponent has been Ed Primoff, who has criticizes Gouge's stance on affordable housing.

"Primoff calls any house that costs less than $300,000 a rats' nest," she says. "How many Carroll citizens can afford that price? We have to offer affordable housing if we really want to keep people here, if we really want to keep our children here."

Primoff says Gouge's support for some of Glendening's Smart Growth policies - directing development to existing communities - doesn't make sense in Carroll.

"None of those policies are consistent with the views of the vast majority of Carroll Countians," he says. "Her cozying up to this governor over the past four years is a slap in the face to every Carroll Countian who overwhelmingly rejected him."

If Carroll is to get its fair share of state dollars, Gouge contends, "We have to forget party affiliation and work for all parties in the county."

Gouge has cultivated an image as a moderate and a champion of controlled growth and the environment.

"We have to have growth, if we want people to live in Carroll County," she says. "But, growth has been faster than we have had adequate facilities for. We need to slow it down, so people can relax and enjoy their lives. We have to give them the quality of life that they expect in Carroll County."

On the proposed Piney Run plant, perhaps the most contentious issue before the commission, Gouge has opposed Dell and Frazier, who have pushed ahead on the project despite the state's refusal to issue a building permit and strident opposition from residents.

"The Piney Run decision was made without any input from the public," Gouge says. "This is something that will be paid for by citizens who have not had a say. This is not open government."

Gouge would prefer to negotiate with Baltimore for more water from Liberty Reservoir and to pursue the construction of wells to supplement the water supply.

"She votes her conscience at great personal sacrifice, both in the Republican Party and with her commissioner colleagues," Ross Dangel, chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, has said of Gouge. "Julia is about listening to the people and making decisions after weighing the impact for everybody."

Gouge, 62, is a lifelong Carroll resident. An effort to help a neighbor with a zoning battle propelled her into politics nearly 25 years ago when she was elected to the Hampstead Town Council. Four years later, she was elected the town's mayor.

Her political career continued to rise when, in 1986, she became the first woman elected to the County Commission. She was re-elected in 1990 and then failed in her first bid for state office. She ran for lieutenant governor in 1994 on a ticket with William S. Shepard, who lost in the primary to Ellen R. Sauerbrey.

After a four-year hiatus, she was returned to the commission in 1998, garnering the largest number of votes. She is among the leading fund-raisers in this year's race with about $16,500 so far.

She is hoping that if she is re-elected, voters will put like-minded people on the board. A board that shares her philosophy on governing would rethink growth policy and include the towns' input in decisions.

"Four years ago, we did strategic planning, but there is no teeth in anything," she said. "We need to direct growth to communities where growth already is and that is the towns. Then, we have to help the towns with infrastructure. There can be good cooperation between the towns and the county. There are people willing to sit down and listen. This is not a them-and-us thing. Every citizen in those towns is a citizen of Carroll County and has a right to a say on water, police, whatever issue."

Ten candidates are vying for the three Republican slots on the November ballot.

"My biggest concern is that there are a lot of people running in the primary," Gouge said. "We need people to come out and vote their consciences in the primary so they can get their candidates in the general."

Sun staff writer Childs Walker contributed to this article.

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