Unlike a charged meeting earlier when she faced a crowd of nearly 100 without staff, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge had backup at last night's meeting with Freedom Area Citizens Council.
Gary Horst, director of the county's enterprise and recreation services department, accompanied the commissioner to the session in Eldersburg and answered several questions on the proposed construction of a $13.5 million water treatment plant at Piney Run Reservoir.
Two weeks ago, Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Robin Bartlett Frazier refused to allow county staff to participate in a community meeting, which Gouge had organized. Gouge said she felt at a disadvantage during the meeting, and that she was unable to answer some of the more complex and technical questions posed by members of the audience. Residents who attended the meeting were angry that the county's most knowledgeable employees were not there.
Frazier and Dell said they had no problem with Horst or other department heads meeting with the Freedom council.
"It is consistent with our policy in that it was called by citizens and not by one commissioner," said Dell.
Frazier characterized Gouge's meeting Sept. 6 as political campaigning to garner support.
"The main point is, when we are invited we are welcome to take staff," said Frazier. "There is a clear difference between calling a meeting and being invited to a community meeting to answer questions."
Gouge said she did no campaigning and had no intent or time to win support for an election that is more than two years away. She spent the evening answering a constant stream of questions. A few times she found she lacked the information requested.
She has scheduled four more community sessions to be held throughout the county, hoping attendance and participation will be as good.
The meeting last night was the regularly scheduled Freedom council session. Nimrod Davis, chairman of the group, had asked specifically for Horst to attend because he expected questions on Piney Run Lake.
"I knew he would have to get permission to come," said Davis. "I knew we would need his knowledge on Piney Run."