Commissioners approve panel on women's issues Compromise set on how members will be selected


The Carroll County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to start a Commission for Women, but the way they did it sparked a skirmish yesterday with the group's organizer.

At issue was who would appoint commission members and whether the county would give the group any money. In the end, a compromise was reached.

Commissioners Julia W. Gouge and Elmer C. Lippy voted in a closed session Tuesday to establish a women's commission, which will write an agenda for the government to deal with women's issues.

These include health care, domestic violence, sexual harassment, and family and workplace matters.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell voted against starting the panel, saying the government should not sanction a special-interest group. He said he feared the group would become "an unwieldy bureaucracy."

In the vote, the commissioners agreed they should appoint all 15 members of the group, not five as suggested by a steering committee that organized the effort to start a women's commission. The steering committee would have appointed the other 10 members.

When steering committee chairwoman Rachelle Hurwitz of Uniontown heard about the change yesterday afternoon, she immediately talked with Mr. Lippy and Mrs. Gouge.

The nine-member steering committee wanted women with a variety of interests on the commission, Ms. Hurwitz said. The commission is meant "to represent all women in the county, not hand-selected, political, elite appointments by the commissioners."

She called Mrs. Gouge, who suggested a compromise: The commissioners and the steering committee each would appoint seven members, and both sides would agree on the 15th member.

Mr. Lippy said yesterday he would accept the change.

Earlier in the day, Mrs. Gouge and Mr. Lippy said the commissioners agreed they should be able to appoint all 15 members because the Commission for Women would be a government agency.

"We have every right to have some say in who's appointed," Mr. Lippy said. "I don't think you're going to get a rigged commission that way."

Mrs. Gouge said the commissioners would have listened to the women's recommendations about who should be appointed.

"They would still have a lot of input. I think ultimately, the commissioners would take their recommendations," she said.

Mrs. Gouge said late in the afternoon that she should have suggested the compromise earlier.

Members would serve three-year terms. Men would be eligible to serve.

The state of Maryland and 13 counties have women's commissions. The governor appoints members of the state commission and the mayor appoints members of the Baltimore commission. Members of county commissions are appointed in different ways.

Anne Donahue, president of the Baltimore County Commission for Women, said the county executive appoints 14 of its 21 members, and County Council members appoint the remaining seven.

"Some are very clearly political rewards. It's very much an insiders' commission," Mrs. Donahue said. "At the moment, the commission is a really diverse group, but at other times it hasn't been."

In their vote Tuesday, Carroll commissioners also agreed that the county would not have to budget money for the Commission on Women. The steering committee had suggested bylaws saying the county "shall" budget money.

Mrs. Gouge said some residents are concerned about who the women's commission will represent and what it will do. The county should not give money to a group until the group has a track record, she said.

"I think it's something that will have to prove itself over a period of time, and I think that's fair," she said.

Mrs. Gouge said she would help the commission apply for state and federal government grants. The county may give the group money in the future, she said.

The state legislature still must approve the formation of a Carroll Commission for Women. The county commissioners will present proposed legislation to the county delegation at a Nov. 18 meeting.

Del. Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, who chairs the county delegation, said yesterday he had not read the proposed legislation, but had not heard any opposition to it. If the commissioners approve proposed legislation, the delegation usually introduces it, he said.

Ms. Hurwitz said yesterday she was "thrilled and excited" about the commission.

"This is an historic day for Carroll County -- for women and children and the quality of life," she said.

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