Slow go for election

With commissioner districts undecided, 5 file to run


In what is traditionally a heavily contested race, few candidates have emerged for county commissioner seats this year, when the board expands from three to five members elected by district.

Less than two months before the July 3 filing deadline and barely four months before the September primary, the districts that the candidates would represent remains unsettled.

Although a Circuit Court judge issued an order mapping out the five districts, two appeals of the decision are pending.

Five candidates had filed as of Friday to run in four of the five districts, while the North Carroll District 2 has not yielded a candidate.

If the map order prevails, Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr., the only incumbent to file so far, would run in District 1, which includes western Carroll and the towns of Taneytown, Union Bridge and New Windsor.

Incumbent Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Dean L. Minnich have yet to file, but both said they plan to seek re-election. Gouge would run in District 2, and Minnich would run in District 3, the Westminster area.

"Candidates are probably sitting back and waiting for districts to be finalized," said Tony Roman, a political science teacher at Carroll Community College. "The situation is very muddy now, and who knows what will come out of the court appeals. If you are in a swing area, the map could make the difference in whether or not you run."

A redistricting committee recommended a map, known as Option Two, last year. That map had the unanimous support of the current commissioners, the mayors of all eight towns and many residents who lobbied the legislature to enact it.

However, the county delegation favored an alternative map, known as Option One, which separates North Carroll towns and makes one district of Westminster and another in South Carroll.

But the delegation failed to win General Assembly approval for Option One. The legislative session ended last month without lawmakers enacting a district map for Carroll County.

Faced with a failed map and filing deadlines, the county Board of Elections announced it would hold an at-large election -- in the interest of time and fairness to perspective candidates.

Dana Lee Dembrow, a Gamber attorney and former Montgomery County delegate and political activist, immediately challenged that decision and demanded that the board uphold the 2004 voter-approved referendum that expanded to five the number of commissioners and required them to be elected by district.

He asked the Circuit Court to define the districts.

"The law is clear that the election will be by district," Dembrow said. "It was a no-brainer to choose Option Two."

Option Two keeps North Carroll as one district, separates South Carroll along Route 32 and Finksburg along Route 140 and makes one district of Westminster and another for the more rural western Carroll.

Under the order approved April 19 by Carroll Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway, the elections board will follow Option Two.

"People are filing based on the map and we are accepting those until we hear otherwise," said Patricia K. Matsko, county elections board director.

Six days after the court decision, two county residents, one of them Joseph M. Getty, a policy director in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration, appealed the order.

Dembrow has asked the court to dismiss those appeals or transfer them immediately to the state Court of Appeals for an expedited decision.

"Option One failed when the General Assembly refused to pass it," Dembrow said. "It is off the table. The court order fixes the districts. As long as it remains in force, this is a settled issue."

Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican delegation, supported Option One but had pushed for an at-large election all along. He had no support for an at-large election from the delegation.

He said Thursday that he was disappointed when the legislature failed to enact the map and assumed the election would proceed at-large.

Despite the uncertainty, he expects many candidates will be interested in the commissioner seats, he said.

"I thought this was settled as an at-large election," Haines said. "Then came the judge's consent order and now the appeals of that order. I still think a lot of people will file. There is plenty of time."

Haines, who plans to seek a fifth term, also has not filed.


If Map Option Two remains in effect, these candidates -- all Republican -- have filed to run in:

District 1: Perry L. Jones Jr. of Union Bridge, incumbent commissioner. Filing date 4/17/06.

District 3: Charles William Cull of Westminster. Filing date 4/24/06.

District 4: Christopher Eric Bouchat of Woodbine. Filing date: 4/24/06.

District 5: Doug Howard of Sykesville. Filing date 5/01/06. Michael D. Zimmer of Eldersburg. Filing date 5/04/06.

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