Masking recommendations at an upcoming conference caused one Carroll County commissioner to suggest the board boycott the event altogether, in addition to sending an email to county staff expressing his criticism, which some have called offensive.
During the annual Maryland Association of Counties Summer Conference, all 24 Maryland jurisdictions come together with the governor’s administration to discuss county priorities with various state officials. This year the conference is taking place Aug. 18 to 21 in Ocean City.
On its website, MACo says it is “strongly recommends” attendees wear masks indoors during the conference, regardless of vaccination status.
At Thursday’s meeting, Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, said he canceled his attendance to the event after learning about the masking recommendations.
“It’ll save the county money, I believe around $1,500,” he said. “I’m wondering if it’s necessary for us to go down there if it is so dangerous in the conference room that we have to wear masks even though most people are vaccinated.”
Bouchat said the community is suffering from mental health issues, addiction and overdoses and suggested the board does not attend the event at all so they could be refunded for the cost of the trip and allocate those funds to the county’s Department of Citizen Services.
“First of all, masks are not mandated, it’s a simple request,” Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said. “It’s extremely important we interact with secretaries and government officials to bring things back to Carroll.”
Weaver said although it does cost money to attend the conference, “those dollars are small compared to what we bring back.”
Bouchat argued that if the board cared about public safety, they would not attend a crowded event.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, commented that Bouchat is bringing risk to other commissioners and county staff just from remaining unvaccinated against COVID-19.
Bouchat responded that he is less likely to get sick than most of his colleagues as he has been infected with the virus previously and is protected by antibodies.
“I’m not going to get into this with you … I will say some of the things you sent to staff, email wise, within the past 48 to 72 hours has been comedic relief for me,” Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said.
On Tuesday, Bouchat sent an email out to the board and county staff expressing his discontent with the suggestion to wear masks at the MACo conference.
Addressing the other commissioners, he wrote, “I know if I was in your shoes preaching to others, get the vax and wear a mask, I’d feel like a complete idiot.”
Bouchat went on to write if one chooses to “walk around in a face diaper … just to protect others from getting the virus,” they “should move to Communist China” where they will “fit in perfectly.”
“We all know you don’t like masks,” Wantz said. “Why couldn’t you just say you weren’t going? As a member of the board of directors on MACo and knowing what it has done for Carroll County, I will not entertain anything that would keep us from that incredibly valuable conference.”
Commissioner President Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, said he was “downright disgusted by the perceived attacks in the emails,” Bouchat sent.
Bouchat denied attacking staff and argued he was only voicing his opinion about certain COVID-19 policies.
“I thought it’d be good for us as leaders to publicly boycott MACo” over the mask issue, he said. “All four of you are going to go down there with your wives and this is costing our county over $18,000, at least.”
Ted Zelinski, director of management and budget, said it’s hard to say what exactly will be spent on the trip until afterward but it could cost between $18,000 and $21,000.
Bouchat apologized to staff who took offense to his email.