Officials create post for liaison

Job meant to give county louder voice in Annapolis

Gouge aide, 42, named to position

Senator argues lobbyist at legislature unnecessary

Carroll County

August 06, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners appointed yesterday an attorney experienced in town government, growth issues and the county's legislative needs to the newly created position of director of legislative services.

Frank Johnson, 42, who has been special assistant to Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge for 20 months, will begin the job Thursday.

The commissioners created the job, which will pay $64,500 a year, to give the county a stronger presence during the legislative process and to enhance communication with federal and state lawmakers, as well as municipal leaders, according to a statement announcing the appointment.

In an interview, Johnson said, "When you see the issues, our voice just isn't out there - especially on issues that affect us day to day."

Steven Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff, said Johnson will be expected to develop a rapport with not only the delegation members but also with their staffs.

"We will know about proposals prior to their coming out in bill format," Powell said. "It will give us insight and entry into the early stages of the legislative process."

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said Johnson "will take our voices, ears and eyes to Annapolis. It is a village, and we need better representation there."

In the written announcement issued yesterday, several legislators praised the appointment. But in an interview, state Sen. Larry E. Haines, the delegation's leader, called the position superfluous.

"The voters send the delegation to Annapolis to represent them," Haines said. "I don't see the need for this position."

In addition to working with Gouge, Johnson has served as county liaison to the Council of Governments and as chairman of the growth task force. A former Mount Airy councilman, he also worked as an attorney for Montgomery County, where he dealt with zoning and legislative issues.

"This new job builds on what I am already doing," he said.

Several metropolitan counties have a legislative lobbyist in Annapolis, and Carroll has been considering the job for years, Gouge said.

"We need him to lobby for our issues," she said. "The county has been out of sight. This will put us there. Frank is a practiced attorney who can keep an eye on local, state and federal laws."

Haines argued that the counties that have a legislative liaison are governed by charter and are "big government," he said.

"All the commissioners need to do is ask," Haines said. "It has always worked well in the past."

The commissioners also appointed Vivian Laxton, a journalist for The Gazette in Frederick and Montgomery counties, public information administrator.

The 35-year-old Walkersville resident will join the county Thursday and earn $53,840 a year. She is on vacation this week and was unavailable for comment.

"We don't want a spin doctor or gatekeeper," Minnich said. "Vivian Laxton will improve access to county government and create a free flow of candid information."

Powell said that the two appointments were the result of restructuring and that there would be no increase in the number of county employees, now 612.

"We have one of the lowest employee-to-resident ratios in Central Maryland," Powell said. "But we have no more room in our organization for any more restructuring."

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