Carroll County's new board of commissioners took office yesterday morning and within hours had undone some of the preceding board's work.
Republicans Julia Walsh Gouge, Dean L. Minnich and Perry L. Jones Jr. took office shortly after 9 a.m. and by early afternoon had tinkered with several appointed committees, fired the board's top assistant and abolished a program that was a pet project of former Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier.
The character education program, begun last year, asked county employees to focus on developing traits such as decisiveness, virtue and benevolence. Every month employees received a bulletin featuring an animal that symbolized the encouraged behavior.
Frazier said the program would provide examples of good behavior for the county's children, but many employees said privately that they felt insulted by the initiative.
Jones made the motion to abolish character education, saying he had heard many people call it unnecessary and disrespectful.
Minnich added that the program seemed superfluous. "We're assuming that they have some character," he said of the county's 600 employees.
"Most definitely so," said Steve Powell, the county budget director, who was observing the meeting.
"Are they against good character?" wondered Frazier, who did not attend yesterday's inauguration. "That would be my only question. I think it's good for a community to emphasize good character, but I guess a new board will have new opinions."
In other business, the commissioners set in motion requests to add two members each to the county's planning and ethics commissions.
Throughout this year's campaign, many candidates said those bodies needed more diverse viewpoints.
Gouge has a sour history with both. She has sparred with the planning commission over growth policy and was investigated by the ethics commission this year because of alleged involvement in a dispute between her daughter and a county-hired contractor. The investigation produced no formal charges of wrongdoing.
Neither board can be expanded without public hearings, and county attorneys said that process probably would take about 30 days.
In a final note on their first day, the commissioners fired R. Patrick Hill, the executive assistant to the last board of commissioners, and announced they are searching for a chief of staff. Hill received a severance package worth about $60,000.
Though the commissioners Do not discuss personnel decisions directly, Minnich said Hill's dismissal was part of "looking for the right fit" with county staff.
By charging from the gate their first day, the new commissioners began following through on promises of change they had delivered during their campaigns. The three enter under the weight of great expectations from community activists and town leaders who want them to slow residential growth, forge better relations with state leaders and present a more unified front than the previous board.
Gouge, Minnich and Jones defeated incumbents Frazier and Donald I. Dell in the Republican primary Sept. 10 and won election in a landslide Nov. 5.
Minnich acknowledged the high expectations in remarks he gave after the inauguration.
"It's spring training, and in spring training, every team is a contender," he said. "But I think we're about to start a pretty good season."
The day began in a packed Westminster courtroom where Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. swore in the new commissioners, Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning and a batch of newly elected court officials.
Beck drew a laugh from the crowd when he told the commissioners, "You're about to embark on a 48-month tour which will in all likelihood challenge you in ways you've yet to contemplate."
The three commissioners then offered brief remarks, with Gouge reiterating promises for more open government and Jones saying yesterday was a day he had awaited for five years.
Minnich said no one should expect the board to be perfect.
"I think we're going to be able to do the right thing for the right reason most of the time," Minnich said. "And that's all you can really ask for from public servants."
After a reception at the County Office Building, the commissioners began their first meeting, where Minnich and Jones elected Gouge board president. The distinction, usually granted to the leading vote-getter, means Gouge will preside over county meetings as she has for the past four years.
Then, amid jokes about the county's bootlegging history, the trio got down to business.
In addition to addressing character education and the planning and ethics panels, they gave the Zoning Ordinance Review Committee until the end of the month to complete its business. Last year, that appointed committee became embroiled in a six-month debate over land-use policy after it recommended a revised law that could have allowed new development on farm and conservation lands across the county. The committee included defeated commissioner candidate Ed Primoff, who has strongly criticized Gouge and Minnich.