Reorganization of government gets attention

Commissioners expected to create separate agency on the environment

`There will be no job loss'

`Reconfiguration' likely to include public safety office, parks, recreation

March 06, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners are working on a reorganization of county government that would, among other changes, create a separate Department of the Environment, officials said yesterday.

The board also is expected to make recreation and parks its own department and to restructure the Office of Public Safety, which has been roundly criticized in recent months by volunteer firefighters.

The changes, which officials are calling "a reconfiguration," will not cost the county any money, and they won't cost anyone his or her job, the officials said.

"There will be no job loss, not even a possibility of job loss," said Frank Johnson, special assistant to board President Julia Walsh Gouge.

Officials were short on details of the changes. Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff, said the board has frequently discussed the reconfiguration, and he plans to make a public presentation next week.

Gouge said the three commissioners were prompted to act largely because of comments they heard on the campaign trail last fall.

"These changes are all goals of ours and in areas we have talked about with citizens," said Gouge. "This is basically a shifting of people so they can work better together. Sometimes all you have to do is get people into the right departments."

During the campaign, the commissioner candidates heard frequently that residents wanted to see a stronger focus on the environment.

The proposed $16 million water treatment plant on Piney Run Lake dominated much of the campaign debate. Opponents of the project feared the plant would have an adverse impact on the lake that is popular with anglers and boaters, and the commissioners scrapped the plant on their second day in office.

They also recently endorsed a longstanding agreement to protect watershed areas and they are working with the state to build wells to augment the water supply.

The previous board, which included Gouge, eliminated the bureau of environmental services and gave its chief the title of environmental compliance specialist. The state sharply criticized the former board on several occasions for its land-use decisions and its lack of attention to the environmental impact of those measures.

"All three of us have said that we are really concerned about the environment," Gouge said.

Since the commissioners took office in December, they frequently have discussed possible changes to the structure of county government, said Johnson.

"The main impetus was to take a look at the organization," he said. "It should reflect their values for what is important and where they want to go."

Powell called the effort "just a fine tuning in response to citizens' concerns. It is nothing major, nothing on the scale of previous changes."

Four years ago, Gouge and Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier reorganized departments and eliminated several key posts, including two transportation planners, the county's commuter planner and the assistant chief of its water resources management department.

That board also folded the Department of Recreation and Parks into a newly created Department of Enterprise and Recreation Services, which became responsible for solid-waste and utility service and the regional airport.

Under the new plan, those two departments will be separate again.

"That was never a good fit," said Johnson. "Given the wide interest in recreation across the county, we need a separate department for recreation and parks."

Officials would not specify yesterday what changes would occur in the Office of Public Safety.

"Safety issues have come up recently and we are taking a closer look at that area," Gouge said.

Any reworking of that department occurs at the request of those who respond to emergencies, said Johnson. The commissioners have reviewed several possibilities for revamping the department, he said.

"We have heard many different levels of concern, especially from first responders," he said.

Firefighters and emergency service workers have been increasingly vocal in their criticism of Howard S. Redman, director of the office.

They have complained about lapses in the dispatch center's operation and the pace of several important projects, including the Lineboro communications tower and a comprehensive countywide computer mapping system. Several groups issued "no confidence" votes in Redman's leadership in the fall.

Redman has said that the complaints are unfounded.

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