Stunned by what they called unfounded criticism from Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Carroll County commissioners and state legislators returned fire yesterday.
"His comments show how out of touch he is with Carroll County," said Del. Carmen Amedori. "He has no idea what is going on here and has not responded to our numerous attempts to talk to him. As much as he thinks he knows, he really knows much less."
The breakdown in communication has descended to snubs from the governor, said Sen. Larry E. Haines, leader of Carroll's all-Republican delegation.
"The governor has not been open in communication and cooperation with elected officials here," Haines said. "He has refused to sit down with us and, at times, even to recognize us."
In his address to the Maryland Municipal League convention Monday, the governor recognized Carroll. But it was for South Carroll's water shortages and the county's air pollution. Carroll has consistently resisted Smart Growth, Glendening's pet initiative to control sprawl, he said. In a speech peppered with praise for many, he singled out Carroll, blaming its problems on poor leadership.
"This is not the first time he has criticized us and we'll survive," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell, who added that he wanted "to stay above the fracas" and would not comment further.
Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier read the speech several times yesterday and was smarting from it. Her feelings appeared to be hurt and she hesitated to speak. "The market dictates what people like and people are moving here," she said.
Carroll, the first county in Maryland to establish agricultural zoning, ranks among the highest nationally for farm acreage preserved, Haines said. Carroll's bucolic vistas are startling contrasts to the congestion that marks Prince George's County, he said. Glendening, a Democrat, served three terms as county executive there before becoming governor in 1994.
"P.G. is just the kind of metro area people are fleeing from when they move to Carroll," said Haines. "Carroll County has set standards for quality of life throughout the state."
Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who attended the league's millennium celebration in Ocean City yesterday, called the governor's remarks unfair and unwarranted.
Gouge said she was particularly offended by Glendening's comment on Carroll's air pollution, which, many experts have said, emanates from areas as far as the Ohio Valley.
"If he really thinks air pollution is coming from Carroll County, then he should give us a bypass road," said Amedori. "You have bumper-to-bumper traffic standing still on Route 30."
Glendening called Carroll "a before picture in a Smart Growth ad: polluted air, chronic water shortages, congestion and sprawl. But they are still fighting us."
Gouge said she has had no opportunity to quarrel with the state. The governor's office canceled the only meeting it had scheduled in the last year with the commissioners and has ignored their weekly requests for an interview, she said.
"If he would give us the time, we could talk about these issues," Gouge said. "We need to accent some of the good things we have done here."
The governor's office confirmed that appointments have been canceled, but said the commissioners have had other opportunities to address Glendening.
"The governor sees the commissioners at various events throughout the year," said Raquel Guillroy, spokeswoman for the governor. "So, it's not that they have not had opportunities to see him face to face."
Haines said an occasional sighting is insufficient time to conduct vital business.
At the convention, Glendening praised three mayors of Carroll towns that have followed his lead on Smart Growth. Sykesville's Jonathan S. Herman, Westminster's Kenneth A. Yowan and New Windsor's Jack A. Gullo Jr., who is also the outgoing president of the municipal league, "understand the need for Smart Growth and are working with us," Glendening said.
Gullo said, "Whether you call the criticism constructive or critical, it is accurate. The governor relied on facts, not opinion."
Glendening noted the commissioners' decision last year to rezone 145 acres of the Rash farm in South Carroll. One of the last vestiges of agriculture in the highly developed area could soon become another housing subdivision, if the rezoning decision survives a court battle.
The state rarely involves itself in local land use, but Glendening has publicly criticized the Rash rezoning several times. On Monday, he called it "a rash decision" that "potentially sets the stage for more sprawl."
The municipalities have practiced Smart Growth, "but our county is not pulling toward the state's common goal," said Gullo. "If the county wants money for schools and roads, it cannot continue to make poor policy decisions that are different from the rest of the state."
Herman, who has long been an outspoken critic of the county's lack of foresight and unwillingness to cooperate with the state, said he felt exonerated when he heard the speech.
"The governor hit the nail on the head and showed local government can make a difference," he said. "What amazes me is that Carroll County has annoyed the governor enough that he would mention it in a speech to the municipalities.
"The sad reality is that our commissioners and our delegation constantly shoot themselves in the foot," Herman said. "They thumb their noses at the governor's programs when everybody else is working with him. They are out of step with the rest of the state. Why are they even wondering why they have not had a meeting with the governor?"
Gouge's argument that Carroll had practiced smart growth long before it became a state law is countered by images of a sprawling Eldersburg, the county's planned growth area, Herman said.
"They may have had planned smart growth, but they never relied on it," he said.