County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge has accepted chairmanship of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, a position that she said will add to her workload and increase her meeting schedule, but that will bring more recognition to Carroll County.
The council of the region's elected leaders chose Gouge as its chairwoman last month, giving the job to a Carroll official for the first time in 10 years.
"Being chair gives you the opportunity to put your imprint on next year's work," said Larry Klimovitz, the council's executive director. "As chair, Julia Gouge can propel a specific area."
Gouge hopes to focus on environmental issues, particularly reservoir protection strategies and clean air programs, she said. About 80 percent of the council's efforts center on transportation issues, Klimovitz said.
The council provides a sounding board for regional issues and helps develop solutions that improve the quality of life and spur economic development throughout the area, said council officials.
Along with Carroll, the council includes officials from Baltimore City and Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Anne Arundel counties, who typically rotate into a year stint as chair.
Gouge, who is in the last year of her fourth four-year term as county commissioner, said the appointment will mean "more work, more meetings but great representation for Carroll County."
In 16 years of participating on the metropolitan council, this marks the first time she has been appointed chairwoman. During her tenure, she will represent the council in discussions with state and federal agencies, lead meetings and organize news conferences.
"With our commissioner as chairman, we will have stronger insights into whatever impacts us regionally," said Steven D. Powell, the commissioners' chief of staff. "These issues include transportation, particularly commutes to work, air pollution and water quality."
Federal money often flows through the council to jurisdictions, with many federal agencies and programs stipulating membership in regional planning councils as part of their criteria for awarding funds, Gouge said.
"I am sure some people will say we have no business being involved with the metropolitan area, but we are part of the council and part of the region," Gouge said. "We all have to work together on everything from water and air quality to homeland security. We have a lot of issues to take up this year."
The council shares its expertise with the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board and helps coordinate ridesharing, according to its Web site. It has initiated cooperative purchasing programs that have reduced costs in many areas for its member jurisdictions and has developed research in economics and demographics, the Web site says.
"This council has worked together for years, and we are far ahead of many areas across the nation," Gouge said.
The metropolitan council traces its roots to 1956, when it was part of the state Department of Planning. It became a separate entity nearly 30 years later. In 1992, the group adopted its current name and renewed its mission to serve as a regional planning agency, according to the Web site.
"There are many benefits to council membership," Gouge said. "Because of this council, our fire companies can talk to each other on emergency communication systems. We have additional money for our sheriff's department and our 911 system. Those would not happen without council membership."
Steven C. Horn, Carroll's director of planning, said Gouge's chairmanship gives the county "a stronger place at the table.
"The appointment reflects the county's continued commitment to the regional process," he said.
Gouge, frequently mentioned among Maryland's top women leaders, serves on the board of directors of the National Association of Counties and is past president of the Maryland Association of Counties and a current member of its legislative committee.