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The Political Octagon




   The Not So Politically Correct Blog of the Carroll Standard

Ethical? It Depends On Who is Asking

In 2002, the County Commissioners, within days upon taking office, fired the three members of the Carroll County Ethics Commission. Very shortly thereafter a seven member board was installed, hand picked by the commissioners.

From that day forth, the commissioners had a board at their disposal, rubber-stamping appointees and hires, bereft with conflicts of interest.

The Truth Will Set You Free

In recent months, there has been a focused attempt to marginalize the Carroll Standard as an arm of pro-growth proponents and extremists on the right. Individual letter writers and certain incumbent candidates have asserted that the Standard is under investigation by the State Prosecutor and charges should be lodged to stifle our voice.

They have claimed the information we have provided are lies and half-truths. One failed candidate has gone as far as to file suit against us for defamation, for printing a factual police and court record on his propensity for assault and battery.

The relentless attacks and specious claims of these individuals are a defensive response, in an attempt to cover up the disgraceful, dishonest, and disrespectful way they want to govern and have governed in the last four years.

Non-candidate writers, armed with information gleaned from the county public information office refuse to accept that their self-indulgent political friends have deceived the public.

The candidate who is trying his best to cover up his inch thick criminal record is in denial, and refuses to accept responsibility for his personal failures.

The sad truth in these attacks, they have only claimed the information we have provided is false. The problem with the attacks, all using innuendo and nasty remarks, have not contradicted the message, they chose to vilify the messenger.

The truth of the matter, we are not in the habit of making false statements, they have, and continue to cover up the facts.

The printed facts in the Standard were not of our own design; the facts did not come from political detractors or by osmosis. Everything we write comes from government records, their records, not ours; we are only the conveyance of this information. We do not set policy, we do not raise taxes, and we do not control water or land use.

We certainly had nothing to do with the 40 percent increase, over four years, of the county budget. Most importantly, we have nothing to do with exponential growth of Carroll's municipalities that are responsible for the strain on infrastructure. The onus is on our local officials and the blind trust of a mislead public.

The sitting board and the delegate from 9b have used their political offices to demonize us, along with other private citizens to sustain the veil of secrecy that permeates their offices. This will not be left to stand. Their misdeeds will haunt them, as the Standard will be relentless in the pursuit of the truth, their spurious claims will be challenged.

The Standard has given, and will continue to give anyone the opportunity to make an intellectual argument towards any information deemed incorrect. They choose to use other papers to attack without pointing out where and how we are wrong, they have yet to appeal to the Standard for equal time.

The Carroll Standard has not received one factual or intelligent response to perceived wrongs nor has anyone disputed where and how we are wrong. They cannot, will not, as they have nothing to offer in the way of truth. The other papers have joined the cause as their influence is in jeopardy as the Standard will hold its ground and eat at their bottom line. There is a new voice in the county; committed to full disclosure, we will not be intimidated.

The facts in the end will bear out their folly. The Standard will be here long after they are gone, providing the facts garnished from government records that fail to reach the public.

Be Careful What You Say

In a recent letter printed in the Carroll County Times, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge stated, in the 2006 race "people that favored uncontrolled growth put forth a new slate of candidates."

The letter writer alleged, these "friends of the developer crowd," using a "pseudo-newspaper, they created "news" based on semi-facts and outright lies."

In defense of that position, she went on; the Gouge Administration "represented the best interests of the vast majority of the population." Gouge further lamented, "We have been open, responsive and fair. We open our doors wider to the citizen than we do to the special interests."

These statements in of themselves are so outrageous, so dishonest they defy logic. The facts and the money trail paint a clearer picture.

First, all of the candidates that ran in the primary were all first time commissioner candidates, save the sitting board. All were private citizens, homeowners, parents or small business owners.

Only two candidates had run for office on different levels, here and in Howard County. In reviewing campaign finance reports available up to this time, none of the candidates were financed, or backed by "the developer crowd" by any stretch of the imagination.

Second, this "pseudo-newspaper" has not received, nor has it been compensated in any way by developers, bankers, builders or the like. We are not coached, steered or told what to write, as the editors of at least one local paper is conditioned to do. We are unaffiliated with any political party or individual candidate running now or have ever run in the past.

The Standard runs on its own fuel, and the citizen's right to know everything these commissioners have failed to convey. The owner of this publication has been a small business owner in the county for some 30 years, notably, not as a developer or builder.

Third, based on the lack of voter turnout, the "vast majority" of the county did not turn out to support the incumbent board. Those numbers tell a different story as the incumbent commissioners received significantly less votes than in the 2002 primary, an 18,000-vote difference. In 2002 they received almost 55 percent of the vote, in turn received less than 45 percent in this primary election.

Their victories were marginal at best. Perry Jones lost his bid because of his lack of independent thinking, his team player image caught up to him.

Apparently, the "vast majority" for these incumbents consists only of county staff, family members and friends.

Forth, the commissioner's concept of open responsive government is troubling. In past administrations, any citizen could walk into the people's office building, meet and greet sitting commissioners, staff and employees. Permits for any number of projects with the exception of development projects could be attained on the spot. No waiting period, no restrictions or covenants attached after the fact. All within legal limits. Department heads and staff cheerfully assisted citizens on every level. If a citizen wanted any information, it was readily produced, they had nothing to hide.

Today the county office complex is guarded, the commissioners do not entertain citizens one on one, and staff has been subjected to vet everything through the chief of staff. Permits can take months to process for projects as simple as adding a deck to your home, any project is now vetted by an environmentalist, without a zoning or planning background. Department heads and staff have been admonished not to give any information out without a freedom of information request.

They require all information to be vetted through the county attorney, and they will then decide what is released. Your information paid for with tax dollars is now only available after jumping through hoops. To be sure, all the information you receive is only half the story as the packet will come to you incomplete with redactions. An open government would under normal conditions, not require a freedom of information act. The County office would be open to all residents, not just the commissioners' perceived majority of friends and family.

Almost lastly, "special interests," according to finance reports filed with the State Election Board, Gouge specifically, has benefited from contributions from the forth-largest developer in the Baltimore area. In 2003, the developer had filed over three hundred permits. The same developer is currently fighting to build 320 units on a golf course in Westminster, demanding a waiver to build without adequate facilities.

Other contributions come from a section eight housing developer; ironically, various section-eight projects have been developed since 2002, more are in approval stages. The bulk of the remaining contributions, for both incumbents come from county employees and family members, one of which is heavily involved in real estate sales and development. The vast majority of citizens have not contributed.

The bottom line of the deceptive remarks made by Gouge are of her own design, lacking credibility, everything she attacks with clearly falls on her own doorstep. The fact remains the present board of commissioners are the "good old boy's" network.

Finally, we are concerned with the cries for an investigation into our publication. We stand on our First Amendment right as a free press. Any challenges to those rights will be fervently defended and in turn, we will use whatever legal means necessary to hold accountable those responsible for making claims contrary to those rights.

We admonish any publicly elected officials to temper what they say; after all, we do not live in pre-war Germany, as they would have you believe. The references are insulting, not for us, we know who and where we are, but for themselves. We encourage those individuals that are confused to request an atlas and a current calendar.

Hypocrisy Rears its Ugly Head Again

The Sunday prior to the General Election, an editorial appeared in the Carroll County Times. It will unquestionably become the most dishonest editorial ever too appear in those pages. It certainly is not the first, nor will it be the last. It is nonetheless, a low point for a once proud and honest publication. The diatribe is undoubtedly, the most intellectually and morally bankrupt piece of garbage Lee has ever authored. Talk about your dirty politics, it epitomizes everything that is wrong with the media today.

Rather than tackle the many factually challenged comments made in the piece collectively, we will delve into every line. We will give it the Standard "View in Focus," pointing out the deliberate, dishonest and reprehensible behavior of the biased editor of the Carroll County Times.

It is unconscionable, that the directors at Landmark Communications (the parent company of the Times) condone the outright fabrication and dishonest information brokered within their publications.

The editorial, if it can be called that, was titled, "Politics past and present."

Albeit slightly dated, it needs a response; it clarifies the need for citizen skepticism. The removal of all back copies of the Times from library archives is of paramount importance. If researchers or students use any so-called "facts" from the pages of the Times, [Source material from the Times cannot be verified for accuracies or omission of facts. All source information is presumed to be pure conjecture.] A disclaimer refuting the editor and the papers content should be added to all research papers.

CCT: Carroll voters heading to the polls on Tuesday (Nov. 7) should remember the adage those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.

CS: The editor of the Times is probably the worst place to go for a history lesson, but if you must, they do have integrity do they not? We are challenging the veracity of both the Times and its editor. The have sullied the reputations of too many, they have remained unchallenged far too long.

CCT: The state prosecutor on Thursday (Nov. 2) charged the newly reformed Carroll County Republican Club, President Scott Hollenbeck and Treasurer Suzanne Primoff with violating election laws.

CS: This little query is a statement that elucidates the intent of the Times, which is to sensationalize and exploit anything and anyone with whom they disagree politically. The Primoff's have been the recipient of the worst smear tactics the Times has ever offered towards an individual. Lee's almost daily assault on the Primoff's in 2002 election cycle was brutal and beyond the pale. Unfortunately, Lee's unrelenting, insidious remarks and statements went unchallenged. The Primoff's were never afforded equal time. The Times, under the Lee doctrine selects what to spew and who is not allowed to respond.

When former superintendent of schools was indicted and imprisoned, for child molestation--a close friend of the publisher of the Times at the time--the paper chose to give the former superintendent a pass. Very little was reported within the Times pages, with nary an editorial on the matter.

Recently, a known predator was allowed to revise a truth with a fantasy derived to elicit public sympathy for a lost cause. The paper, ignored protocol by exclusion of an editor's note, clarifying the writer's political position or lack thereof, and or any involvement in previous or pending litigation.

Candidates running in this election have sent many responses to the paper and its publisher for inaccuracies printed in the Times. Corrections or letters disputing assertions by Lee and others were never entertained or published. Readers of the Times newspaper are deprived of true public debate and discourse. They are focused one way.

CCT: At the center of the issue was a series of false and misleading ads that smeared incumbent County Commissioner Perry Jones, probably contributing to his loss in the primary.

CS: The ads that appeared in the Eagle and the Standard, robbed the Times of much needed revenue; therefore, the Times attacked the messenger, not in their ad pool and create a lie to justify a fallacious argument. They will never receive any advertising revenue from them anyway, why not demonize them.

The Center of the issue is clearly that the commissioners along with Susan Krebs could not counter the absolute facts in the ads, and they chose to create a fictional rationalization. Jones lost the race because he had nothing to give, except to play, ‘follow the leader.' The problem for Jones was that he followed the wrong road without objection, no matter how much it conflicted with his political and moral beliefs as a crossover politician.

CCT: Hollenbeck, Primoff and other's claiming allegiance to the club are innocent until they have their day in court, but voters need to remember the dirty politics that swirled around Carroll four years ago, and the people who were involved with that.

CS: This statement above all else is the most egregious and borders malice. The Times has again reached a new low. It was the Times, Jim Lee specifically, a PAC (RROCC) of questionable repute, and Julia Gouge who led the smear and leer campaigns against the Primoff's and the Central Committee, which Hollenbeck chaired. They were the perpetrators of the most outrageous and dishonest rhetoric ever visited on the county in recent history. They alone had the means and will through the Times newspapers, to destroy the reputation of honest law-abiding citizens.

CCT: Between 1998 and 2002 two county commissioners allowed rampant growth in Carroll while, more often than not, Commissioner Julia Gouge voted against their pro-growth agenda. As a result, the pro-growth contingent needed to get rid of Gouge, and set about trying to discredit her.

CS: This statement is an example of how an outright lie can blossom into a campaign strategy. The growth rate today in Carroll's environs is greater than in 1998-2002. Carroll County had until now, one of the lowest growth rates in the State.

Municipalities in the same period have had double-digit growth rates, burdening all areas of the county. Municipalities work under their own systems and are accountable only to their base. All of us pay for the tax burden of infrastructure, yet the town benefits from the newly acquired tax base, within the towns borders. The County resident has no recourse or say in town government. The towns have benefited from Gouge's silence in the matter. A new open government would deny them the continuation of annexation and future uncontrolled growth. Gouge was successful in her ability to redirect culpability onto opponents in the 2002 race, labeling everyone a "developer," or accusing others for being "in the developers pocket." Gouge is responsible for the uncontrolled growth in the county.

CCT: Using the county's three-member ethics commission, which included Suzanne Primoff, wife of then commissioner candidate Ed Primoff, they made all manner of accusations against Gouge while investigating an incident involving Gouge's daughter, a private citizen. Their own legal counsel told them it was illegal to investigate a private citizen, but they kept on until their actions were made public. Once exposed for acting illegally, they said they had uncovered additional questionable activities traced to Gouge and kept their investigation going.

CS: The ethics commission did not disclose any information. How would Lee know what transpired within the ethics investigation? Ethics investigations are held in closed sessions, and they stay that way until an accused or questioned individual is charged or becomes afraid enough to "leak" to the press. Suffice it to say, most reprimands or sanctions are held close to the vest. Whatever happens, the onus is on the employee or public official to share it with the public.

The commission was investigating a public official for using the Power of Office, to influence a benefit for a family member. No one knew anything, except the commission members and those inquired, until the information was leaked, falsely embellished to include the family member as the focus of an investigation. The Ethics Commission was ethically and legally doing its work, they were performing a cursory review of a private citizen's complaint against a public official. They never commented on the investigation. It was not in their purview, nor does it benefit them by prematurely releasing to the press any unfinished and ongoing queries.

CCT: The state prosecutor investigated all their allegations and found no wrongdoing. Gouge was innocent, the victim of a smear campaign.

CS: The exact wording in the prosecutor's report goes like this; "Viewing all of the evidence and inferences from the evidence, Gouge's participation in this matter has the appearance, if not the fact, of impropriety. Through her inquiries her name and position was used to influence a contract in which the county had an interest. She should not have involved herself in any manner concerning the extension, but her involvement does not amount to criminal conduct."  The Ethics Commission was onto something.

CCT: Because of the questionable activities surrounding the ethics commission, the new board of commissioners dissolved it immediately upon their election.

CS: The Ethics Commission was at the time, in the middle of an ongoing investigation. Who benefited from their removal? What information did they have to be dismissed out of hand? What shortcomings remain hidden? What did Gouge have to hide? The State prosecutor found, "...if not the fact, of impropriety." There was conduct that was questionable for any elected official, maybe not criminally, but there sure was ethically. A new commission was installed from a short list produced by Gouge. The new commission does not pick up where the old leave off. The work begins with a fresh slate, so to speak. Is it possible to ever now the truth? Gouge gets the prize for this one.

CCT: Ethics commission members protested, even filed a lawsuit. The court denied their claims.

CS: The members of the Ethics Commission did protest their firing. The ethics investigation was not disclosed, nor was it challenged by any court. The issue was whether the commissioners had the authority to disband an entire board without arbitration or appeal. The finding ruled in favor of the commissioners by statute. Any commission or board works at the commissioner's pleasure and can be terminated regardless of term. The same commissioner that was under scrutiny demanded the ethics panel resignations.

CCT: Today, the same names are back, along with some new ones, and they are continuing to use the same tactics they used prior to the 2002 election.

CS: They, as it should be defined here, include the sitting board of commissioners, the 9b Delegate, Krebs; the Freedom Area Citizens Council (FACC) and its most radical members; the Responsible Republicans of Carroll County (RROCC) and the Carroll County Times. Members of the RROCC have benefited politically and financially with their campaign rhetoric and false information. They had the venue (the Times), they had the means in the use of tax dollars, and they have in this election continued with the same old parlor tricks. The new faces are not so new, they are members of a Mt. Airy contingent working behind the scenes in 2002, and have been very active in this election. Their political positions are significantly tied, to this sitting board of commissioners. Whenever a private citizen or group of citizens come together and stand up for what is right, a political band of pirates have the ability and means to twist and squirm, to weasel and cajole, to protect and justify their hubris nature. With the aid of the Carroll County Times.

CCT: Those tactics already probably helped cost Jones his job as a county commissioner.

CS: Poor Perry again. Jones was aware of the actions and methods of the RROCC in 2002, as was Minnich and Gouge. Jones was justifiably rejected by voters. Jones wore his liberal propensities on his sleeve, not good in a conservative county. Minnich and Gouge would have suffered the same fate if voters had made a more informed decision at the polls in the primary.

CCT: On election day, voters need to remember the past in order to make an informed choice at the polls on what's best for Carroll's future.

CS: We agree, however we urge readers to diversify their reading habits and vet out the rhetoric from the reality. The past was revisited--almost--the difference this time, they were openly challenged.

Water Here, Water There, Water Almost Everywhere

One thing is clear, and it is not Carroll County's water supply. The drilling of the Springfield wells as the commissioners have done and abandoned has become the second greatest blunder this county has ever made, exceeded only to losing the land and water access rights to the Liberty Reservoir to Baltimore City.

Creating a sustainable water grid for the entire County must be a priority. Maintaining the status quo, building a patchwork of high yield wells just to catch up or supplement existing water sources, is just fool-hearty and shortsighted. Relying on high yield well water is not an option when surface water is readily available. Drilling high-yield wells between two viable above ground water sources, Liberty and Piney Run Reservoirs, and the available land set aside for the Gillis Falls and Union Mills Reservoirs makes no sense.

Not sharing with the public that the Springfield wells have shown signs of contamination is dishonest and dirty politics. Capping and sealing those wells secretly, as if they did not exist, only confirms the lack of open communication between government and the community it serves. The millions of dollars wasted on the project have yet to be revealed. The previous administration knew the water was contaminated and looked to Piney Run, this administration ignored the knowledge and went ahead full bore.

Ask any municipal town manager whether he would prefer his high yield well to surface water. Ask the town manager if he prays every night for water, for a morning cup of coffee. Question the town's wisdom in allowing smart growth to tax the town's municipal wells to the point of stress and failure. Alternatively, does the town manger care at all, or does he secretly, in the dark of night perform a rain dance ritual.

Westminster, having been effectively shut down until they can find adequate water for its current residents by the Maryland Department of the Environment, epitomizes all that is wrong with smart growth policies. Their 70 percent growth rate in recent years has caught up with them. They are now demanding the state allow them to continue to issue permits, as they need growth to pay for new water sources. Smart growth failures have placed them in the predicament in the first place. Their solution is not in high yield wells or a pipeline from a quarry, they could participate in a countywide plan.

The agreement they make with the county should include a lock on expansion, stopping all growth and annexation indefinitely. This should also go for the rest of the counties municipalities. The water they purchase from the county should only sustain its existing population. Mount Airy's demands to look outside their borders for water should be discouraged and stopped.

The county needs a water task force to mold new policy; a freeze on high yield well development is paramount, in the towns and in Carroll's environs. The task force should include Carroll's municipalities, but not led by them through the council of governments, which is self-serving. Carroll's major infrastructure problems are a direct result of the towns out of control growth policies. Specifically, schools, roads and security borne by county taxpayers must embolden the county to take the lead, to stave off any drain on county coffers to supplement the lack of proper planning by municipal leaders.

Not another dime of taxpayer money should be spent on well drilling, plant expansion or upgrades, at least not until the public approves a long-term plan that is both visionary and healthy for our local economy. Westminster's wake-up call should resonate around the county; smart growth is destroying the counties ambience.

A countywide plan is needed that will benefit all of Carroll's residents and provide water resources to all of its municipalities who sign a no growth agreement. It is the tool required to gain control of a municipality's unsustainable growth.

Augment Carroll's surface water potential with a rural legacy vision, Carroll can remain the last and best bit of open space in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

The future of Carroll County's prosperity lies in its surface water, not through commercial growth or land development, or the expansion of the residential tax base for municipalities. Let us be honest, economic growth in the county has lagged the region by 20 years, a fresh look and new leadership is long overdue.

Economic development for Carroll County 20-30 years down the road can be in its water reserves. A bottling company can sell a bottle of tap water for a buck or more from a municipal water source that cost less than a penny to produce. They could build a bottling plant here in Carroll; bottled water shipped worldwide, now that is economic growth.

Planners in the late 1960's saw the need for well-placed reservoirs throughout the county, Piney Run, Gillis Falls and Union Mills, all potential gold mines. They should be brought on line, its time to flood the land. Piney Run should be used as it was designed for, a viable water source, with reliable distribution. Carroll's vast open space creates opportunities to build more.

The choice of becoming a clone of our southern neighbors is tempting to some; the scenery to look out over water rather than the roof of a warehouse would produce the right climate for the county and its rural legacy. The lack of a polluting industrial and manufacturing base makes the county an ideal location for potable water production. The reserves can be sold to our neighboring counties and municipalities who no longer have the option to set aside land for water. Contamination is infecting ground water supplies around the region making wells a liability, the cost for filtering contaminated water is a cost consumers should not have to bear. The commissioners find this to be true from experience, in drilling and capping the Springfield wells.

There in lies the secret to Carroll's rural future. The county has opportunity in its wealth of open space and its ability to sustain surface water. Flood the lands and treat water as a commodity, it is the future, it can become Carroll's legacy.

District Here, District There, the Politicians are Where?

The fact remains, option one, the "Wheatley Map," after all is said, is a map crafted by a citizen, for and about the citizens of Carroll County.  No matter what the outcome in Annapolis, without the Wheatley map, residents lose.  Anything else is a referendum on "communities of influence" rather than "communities of interest."

Piney Run: Ready, Able and Fit for Duty

The consequences of shutting down Piney Run as a water source is now becoming self-evident as water allocations by MDE become the norm for the county and its municipalities. Carroll's water woes have been fomenting for years, beyond capacity with imposed withdrawal limits;

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