Carroll County

Election 2002

October 21, 2002

Today The Sun begins its Nov. 5 general election endorsements for the Carroll County government races.

IN SEPTEMBER, Carroll County voters signaled they wanted a change. Republicans, the majority of the voters there, ousted two of the three incumbent county commissioners in the primary election. The message couldn't have been clearer: Rampant growth that has overtaxed schools, utilities and roads in Carroll has to stop.

For too long, development in the county has proceeded on a development-for-development's-sake basis. For too long, special interests have benefited at the expense of the community. For too long, managing sprawl has meant not managing at all.

During the primary, voters took the first steps toward changing the way government does business in Carroll. Now, voters can continue what they started. The challenge will be to elect three county commissioners (all at large) who understand the extent of the problems in Carroll, offer reasonable and workable solutions and exhibit the resolve and fortitude to pursue a course of action that will produce results.

That means developing and executing policies that address the needs of towns and cities in the context of countywide goals. The new commissioners will have to provide leadership on potentially divisive issues, among the most pressing, the development of water resources.

And the new commissioners will have to engage in consensus-building, rather than the obstructionist behavior exhibited in the past.

Carroll County voters are fortunate because they have a host of quality candidates from which to choose on Nov. 5. All six major-party candidates appear sincere, committed and eager to serve; each possesses local political experience or community service.

There are three, however, who, if elected, would bring to the commission a combination of skills necessary to move the county forward in a thoughtful, constructive and expeditious way.

Republican incumbent Julia Walsh Gouge, 62, is seeking her fourth term on the commission. A former mayor of Hampstead, Mrs. Gouge knows how the system works, and when it doesn't work. She has been a voice -- she says mostly ignored by her former colleagues -- for greater public access and input into the process. During her last term, she routinely became the lone vote on growth and water issues that were blocked by her fellow commissioners. As a past president of the Maryland Association of Counties, Mrs. Gouge has regional and state contacts that could help Carroll in dealings with its neighbors. She would bring to the commission not only 12 years of hands-on experience, but an institutional memory that will be invaluable.

Neil Ridgely, a 53-year-old Democrat and environmental policy aide, previously served as town manager and zoning administrator of Hampstead and as a conservation manager for the county. Mr. Ridgely, of Finksburg, is an articulate spokesman with specific proposals to solve Carroll's growth crisis. He is a proponent of equitable impact fees for developers to ensure adequate facilities and a promoter of open meetings, which have not always occurred in the county. He has proposed evening meetings to increase citizen participation. A forceful advocate, Mr. Ridgely also recognizes the need for consensus on these tough issues.

Last, Carroll voters should give Jeannie Nichols, a Democrat and Sykesville town councilwoman, a chance to serve as commissioner. South county exemplifies the worst of the county's problems. And, as Mrs. Nichols has reminded voters, she is the only candidate who lives in that area. Mrs. Nichols, a 45-year-old mother of four, would give voice to those problems. But she would also bring fresh ideas and new energy to countywide issues.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in Carroll, but resolving the issues that divide the county should take precedence over party affiliation. A vote for change means a vote for the best-qualified candidates regardless of the party to which they belong.

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