`Man of the people' retires

Jones leaves post after 26 years of public service

December 03, 2006|By Mary Gail Hare and Laura McCandlish | Mary Gail Hare and Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporters

When Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. leaves elected office this week, he will take with him 26 years of public service to his town and county, more institutional knowledge than many of those he is leaving behind, a commemorative pewter plaque and one large stuffed black bear that is a favorite hunting trophy.

More than 200 co-workers, friends and family paid tribute to Jones, 54, who narrowly lost his bid for re-election in the September Republican primary, at an appreciation luncheon last month.

"Perry Jones is much too important a resource for the county to lose," said Carroll County Sheriff Kenneth Tregoning, who has known Jones for more than 50 years, since the two grew up together in the Libertytown area of Frederick County. "He is a man for all seasons and for all people."

The audience toasted Carroll's first African-American commissioner as a man who worked tirelessly for the betterment of his community and a public servant who most expect to see back in office someday.

Jones' father was the county's first black town councilman, in Union Bridge, and their family-owned Tuck's Service Station was perhaps the first minority-owned business to open in Carroll County, Jones said.

"My parents always taught me to never let anyone tell you that you can't do anything," Jones said. "The more they tell you that you can't, the more you just go out and show them you can."

If Jones had won the election, he said he was next in line to serve as president of the Maryland Association of Counties.

"The [luncheon] event speaks for itself," David Humbert, special assistant to Commissioner Dean L. Minnich, told Jones. "You lost the election, but in the eyes of everyone here, you are a winner."

Jones spent his last week in office in meetings all day Monday and Tuesday and then headed to Annapolis for the Maryland Association of Counties' fall board retreat for the rest of the week. He had already moved his prized bear out of his office.

In four years, Jones said he might again run for county commissioner. Hopefully, five commissioners will be elected by district then, he said.

Many at his retirement luncheon remarked on his knowledge of government and the quiet manner in which he worked.

"We always say `beware of the bear in the corner office', and we mean the stuffed bear not the commissioner, who is very seldom bearlike," said Tim Feeser, special assistant to Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "Perry always set the day on a high note and never refused to take a visit or a call from a county citizen. Most of them left here with an appreciation that somebody cared. Those citizens are truly losing their commissioner."

Jones shot the storied bear on a hunting trip in Quebec in 1990 - his last vacation before a trip to Hawaii with his girlfriend last year.

"Before that, when I was on town council and mayor, about the only time I took off was when I went to Ocean City for a convention," Jones said.

He joined the three-member board in 2002, after winning the third highest number of votes in an election that ousted two incumbent commissioners. He came to county office after serving more than two decades on the Union Bridge town council, including three terms as mayor.

Jones and Minnich, both newcomers to county office, immediately established a camaraderie and working relationship with Gouge, a veteran who had won election to a fourth term. Their tenure was devoid of political sparring that had marked previous boards."It was Camelot in the life of Carroll County," Minnich said.

Steven D. Powell, the commissioners chief of staff, called it "a mythical place where things worked well. That camaraderie is rare in a work place."

Gouge, who begins her fifth commissioner term this week, called Jones an asset to the board.

Jones was the most taciturn of the three commissioners, often withholding comment for thoughtful reflection.

"We will miss the quality he brought to the board, his sense of purpose and his affable way," Powell said. "It is not by the quantity of words, but the quality of words - the insight and truth they hold that is his measure."

Cindy Parr, Jones' special assistant, described a contentious meeting with developers on a residential building freeze early in the board's tenure. After what seemed an interminable silence in a roomful of officials and developers, Jones made a motion to enact a yearlong moratorium, saying, "I believe builders can live with this."

Steven C. Horn, county director of planning, told the audience, "We need people like Perry, who have a real vision for this county."

Many lawsuits were filed against the freeze, but the board prevailed and used the year to restructure the county's master plan for growth.

"This board has weathered storms but always kept a goal in sight," Feeser said. "They got us where we need to be."

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