Carroll Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge announced yesterday that she has changed her mind and decided to release a report from the state prosecutor's office on her alleged ethics violations.
Gouge had declined to release the report, which she says clears her of criminal wrongdoing. But she said yesterday she would make the document public because she believes critics will speculate that she is hiding something as long as the report remains confidential.
"I'd like to get it out there so people can see it, understand it and examine it," said Gouge, a four-term Republican. "And then I'd like to get on with my life." Gouge added that she wants people "to see where it says, `Do not prosecute.'"
She said she will release the report today or Monday. Gouge said she wasn't ready to release the report yesterday because she wanted confidantes to finish reading it before it goes public.
State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said he had hoped Gouge would change her mind. "I think releasing the report is important because it will ... detail the reasons why we did not recommend any further action" against Gouge, Montanarelli said. "And I think that's important for the public to know."
Montanarelli had said he might release the report if Gouge would not because he did not believe she should be allowed to comment on parts of it without releasing the entire 22-page document. Gouge announced last week that she had received the report and that it had "cleared" her of any criminal wrongdoing.
State law says the subject of the prosecutor's investigation is the only one allowed to release the report if it does not recommend prosecution. The law does not make clear whether Gouge forfeited her confidentiality rights by discussing parts of the report in public. Montanarelli said he has always discouraged partial disclosures.
Gouge said she initially planned to keep the report confidential because she wanted to end an 18-month ordeal surrounding her alleged violations. But news accounts of her decision convinced her she would not find peace unless she released the report, she said.
Gouge reiterated yesterday that the report criticizes her for mentioning to a county employee that a price for contract work at her daughter's business seemed high. She said she regretted that lapse.
"You make a mistake, and I think I've paid dearly for it," Gouge said. Gouge said the report focused on four allegations:
That she had influenced county-hired contractor Charles Stambaugh to reduce by $1,000 the price of sewer work on her daughter's Hampstead business.
That Gouge had tried to suppress Stambaugh's letter complaining about his dealings with her daughter.
That Gouge had influenced state officials to give her daughter a small-business loan.
That Gouge had given a county secretary unearned overtime money to help the secretary repay a personal loan from the commissioner.
Gouge first faced such complaints early last year, when the county ethics commission began investigating her role in the dispute between her daughter, Jill Gebhart, and Stambaugh. Ethics commission Chairman James F.W. Talley later said that Gouge had ordered a county attorney to seize privileged ethics commission documents related to the investigation.
The allegations surfaced throughout last year's commissioner elections, but Gouge received the most votes in the November general election.
In early December, fellow Commissioners Dean L. Minnich and Perry L. Jones Jr. asked for the resignations of Talley and his colleagues, John Harner and Sue Primoff, accusing them of bias, incompetence and misuse of office. The commissioners suspended the panel and later disbanded it in favor of a single ethics officer.
They then appointed a task force to revamp the county code and are considering the panel's recommendations.
Talley said Minnich and Jones eliminated the ethics panel to thwart its investigation of Gouge, which had not produced formal charges. Jones and Minnich repeatedly have said that protecting Gouge was never their intention.
In the midst of the contention surrounding the old ethics panel, Montanarelli said in December that his office was looking into ethics allegations against Gouge.
At that time, a county employee and a former employee said state investigators had questioned them about Gouge's alleged attempts to lower the price for the sewer extension at her daughter's business.
In March, Gouge said state investigators had questioned her about a loan to a county secretary. Gouge said she lent the secretary $1,100 and later authorized overtime for the same employee. But the secretary repaid the loan in April 2000, months before the overtime was authorized, Gouge said.