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February 6, 2013

Commissioner John L Armacost R.I.P.

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Many were saddened recently to learn that the well-respected longstanding community leader and former Carroll County commissioner, John L. Armacost, died January 13.


I had the privilege and honor to work for Commissioner Armacost in several capacities in the 1980s when he was in office from 1982 to 1986 with Jeffrey Griffith and William V. Lauterbach. From 1986 to 1990, Commissioner Armacost served with Commissioner Griffith and then-newcomer, Julia Walsh Gouge.


In those years I served the county during Commissioner Armacost’s term in office on a number of state and county boards and commissions including the county landscape manual committee and the tree preservation committee, in addition to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forestry Board, and numerous agricultural committees with the University of Maryland and the County Extension Service.


I also worked with Dr. Raymond J. Miller, the University of Maryland's Vice Chancellor for Agricultural Affairs, on panel luncheons on present and future challenges to the Carroll and Frederick County agricultural community. The sustainability of the business of agriculture was consistently an important issue for Commissioner Armacost and I recall well his keen interest in those discussions.


Commissioner Armacost served as president of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners from 1982 to 1990. During his tenure he was well known for his sound conservative management of the county budget and his thorough knowledge of the nuts and bolts of how a county works on a day-to-day basis.


A licensed professional civil engineer, Commissioner Armacost worked for the State Roads Commission for more than 20-years before he took on the job as the Carroll County roads department director and later, the director of public works.


Commissioner Armacost was a steadfast member of the old ‘stick with the basics’ school of governance. He earned his credentials well having been born in Carroll County on December 5, 1923, and living many of his formative years during the Great Depression. He was a 1941 graduate of Westminster High School and later the University of Maryland.


Moreover, as best stated in written remarks in the Northern News on January 24, 2013, by local historian and now the Republican State senator from Carroll County Joe Getty: “Armacost had a broad range of experiences that combined to make him an effective leader.”


According to his obituary, Commissioner Armacost “served proudly in the U.S. Army Air Corp, serving in the European Theatre as part of the 434th troop carrier group, the 71st troop carrier squadron, ferrying troops, and supplies to Normandy, Bastogne, Holland, and to Germany.”


Senator Getty also observed that “Armacost was always engaged in local politics, although his wife, Betty Ahalt Armacost, was better known as a political activist who served in various roles with local Republican clubs and the Carroll County Republican Central Committee…”


For context, Senator Getty reflects: “Armacost relished being recognized as a ‘tightwad’ when it came to spending taxpayer dollars…”


Commissioner Armacost was persistently pre-occupied with getting an appropriate return for any and all county expenditures.


“In his first try for elective office in 1982, Armacost was the high vote getter on the commissioner ticket: Armacost (12,437) Jeffrey Griffith (12,098) and William V. Lauterbach (11,323)” Senator Getty wrote.


“This election brought an entirely new team to the County Office Building as J. Norman Graham retired, Louis B. Sharon lost re-election as commissioner, and Roger Mann lost in his bid to be state senator…


“In the 1986 election, he was again at the top of the commissioner ticket: Armacost (14,531), Griffith (13,289) and Julia Walsh Gouge (12,850.)


“His second term marked a controversial period as the county's population grew quickly, as did the growth in the county budget. Armacost opposed the three property tax increases passed during that four-year term…”


After serving two terms as county commissioner, Commissioner Armacost announced that he was not going seek re-election in 1990.


“In an article about his eight years in office published in the Carroll County Times, (Mr.) Lauterbach commended Armacost for his fiscal management and said, ‘[He] tried to balance the budget and cut down spending rather than just add to the tax rate every year.’”


Senator Getty shared a story about a conversation he had with Commissioner Armacost many years ago in which “(w)e shared stories about the local political scene … We also chuckled over the fact that the two of us, both rock-ribbed conservatives, were descendants of a leading Maryland Democrat from the early 1900s.


“Dr. Joshua Hering of Westminster was a State Senator (1896-1900) from Carroll County and he was twice elected statewide as Comptroller (1900-04 and 1907-10). He was also appointed to the first Maryland Public Service Commission (1910-1913). Hering was Armacost's great-uncle while my kinship to Hering was more remote.”


Commissioner Armacost and I did not always agree upon some of the “green” initiatives in which I was involved. However, he was always a consummate gentleman in all our discussions and more often than not, very supportive that my point-of-view be heard.


However, the one advantage I often used was his love of the game of golf and how much he enjoyed a well-engineered and beautifully landscaped golf course.


His obituary reminded me that Commissioner Armacost was a member of the first golf team of Westminster Senior High School and lettered on the University of Maryland golf team. And that he was awarded membership in the ‘M’ club, where he was known for his ability and sportsmanship.


We benefit to this very day from much of the work and leadership of Commissioner Armacost and the county owes him a debt of gratitude for his service to our county and our community.


. . . . .I’m just saying. . . . .


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