Carroll County's new board of commissioners fired its top assistant, axed a predecessor's pet program and killed a disputed $16 million construction project - all in the first 30 hours after Monday's inauguration.
The commissioners also showed signs of thawing relations with state officials for the first time in years and demanded resignations from the ethics panel that had investigated Julia Walsh Gouge, the new board's president.
County political observers expected these moderates to make changes after staging a coup against the conservative wing of the Republican Party in this year's elections. But few expected them to explode forth like a sudden summer thunderstorm.
"They're a whirlwind," said Hampstead Town Manager Ken Decker, who often clashed with the old board. "I think they've made a lot of good decisions."
The commissioners - Gouge, who served on the previous board, and newcomers Dean L. Minnich and Perry L. Jones Jr. - say it was important to act quickly on their bold promises of reform.
"We didn't want people to be concerned that we would drag our feet and not address these issues that we talked about during the campaign," Jones said.
But the post-inauguration blitz has some calling the new commissioners hypocrites because they had criticized predecessors Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier for making major policy decisions abruptly or behind closed doors. Gouge, Minnich and Jones cast many of their votes without publishing an agenda that listed issues they would discuss during the week.
"They ran on open government, and then they went and did more than Dell and Frazier did in four years without an ounce of public input," said Ed Primoff, a conservative activist who lost in the Sept. 6 Republican commissioner primary.
The newcomers say they were merely cleaning up old business, and their pace will slow in the weeks to come.
"Everything we've done so far had been discussed ad nauseam during the campaign," Minnich said. "We had plenty of background."
The new commissioners often sounded like giddy children unwrapping Christmas presents as they used their new powers. Gouge said she felt liberated.
"You feel like you can't wait to get up and come to work," she said after Friday's meeting. "We can laugh around the table and actually be open with each other."
The frivolity began as soon as the three sat for their first meeting Monday. Jones quickly made a motion to eliminate the character education program that had been Frazier's brainchild.
The program - which Frazier discovered at a conference sponsored by the Judeo-Christian group International Association of Character Cities - asked county employees to focus on developing traits such as decisiveness, virtue and benevolence.
Each month, they received bulletins featuring animals that symbolized the traits; a bald eagle, for example, represented respect. Many employees said privately that they felt insulted by the initiative.
After the program had been killed, a smiling Minnich said of the county's 600 workers, "We're assuming that they have some character."
The program was only the first of Dell's or Frazier's ideas to go.
Gouge, who spent four years on the losing side of major decisions, had cast the sole votes against building a water treatment plant at Piney Run Park and against auctioning the former Hampstead Elementary School, a property town officials wanted to control.
With her new colleagues, she overturned both decisions Tuesday.
The vote scrapping the Piney Run project appeased both state environmental officials, who said the plant would promote sprawl in South Carroll, and county residents, who said the plant would ruin a favorite recreational spot.
"Hallelujah! Obviously, the people's wishes have been heard," said Richard McIntire, spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Ethics board dismissed
The new board also sought resignations from all three members of the county ethics board. They overturned a $10,000 budget allocation to the board and asked members to turn their files over to an independent agency.
The ethics board had investigated accusations this year that Gouge interfered in a dispute between her daughter, Jill Gebhart, and a county-appointed contractor. The board never formally declared that investigation closed.
Asked whether Tuesday's decision could be seen as a move to protect Gouge from further investigation, Jones and Minnich said they had deeper concerns about the board.
"This decision wasn't made to stop any investigation," Minnich said. "If an ethics board has no credibility, it has no value."
Ethics board members have promised a formal response to the request for resignations.
The commissioners also defend their abrupt firing of R. Patrick Hill, special assistant to the board. Both Jones and Minnich said thatthey had heard enough about Hill from other county employees to believe he wouldn't be the right fit.
Instead, each commissioner will have an assistant who can stand in at meetings.