Baltimore County Republicans will add to their political arsenal next month when one of their own is elected to the key post of County Council chairman -- even though the majority of the council members are Democrats.
Douglas Riley, R-4th, is expected to be voted in as chairman at the Jan. 3 meeting by a coalition that includes the three Republican newcomers and Donald Mason, D-7th, a Dundalk tax protester who won office after focusing on concerns about government spending.
Mr. Riley will be working closely with County Executive-elect Roger B. Hayden, who became last month the first Republican to win the county's top post since the election of Spiro T. Agnew in 1962.
Mr. Riley, who confirmed yesterday that he is to be tapped as chairman, believes his selection is a signal that the government will take a more fiscally conservative approach in the years ahead.
"The voters in the last election made it clear that they wanted a change, and that the experience of the past hasn't worked," said Mr. Riley, 37, of Towson.
"If people want a change, this is the first sign of it."
The chairman's job involves leading meetings and work sessions and playing a key role in deciding which issues come before the seven-member council and how they are decided.
"I'm not happy about it, but it's politics and I understand it," said C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, D-3rd, the current council chairman, who was a leading contender to get another one-year term as chairman.
The news stunned many in a county traditionally controlled by Democrats.
"It's hard for some people to realize that to the victor belong the spoils," said Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd.
In another development, several department heads and key administrators who had served under departing Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen were dismissed yesterday by Mr. Hayden.
Sources confirmed that four department heads were fired in closed-door meetings with Mr. Hayden -- Timothy Harrison of Central Services, Barbara L. Gradet of the Department of Aging, Les M. Pittler of the Department of Community Development and Robert W. Sheesley of the Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management.
Two other department heads -- County Attorney Arnold Jablon and Recreation and Parks chief Robert R. Staab -- also met with Mr. Hayden behind closed doors yesterday, but both declined comment afterward.
Mr. Hayden refused to comment on any of the meetings.
Several members of Mr. Rasmussen's senior executive staff, who along with the former department heads were appointed by Mr. Rasmussen and were active in his re-election campaign, also lost their jobs yesterday.
Stanley Guild Jr., Judith M. Sussman, Joseph Adler and Ken D. Dryden Sr. either had their jobs eliminated or were fired, and Timothy Fagan agreed to retire Dec. 15 after 27 years with the county.
The dismissals represent yet another step in the transition of power.
Patrick McDonough, Mr. Hayden's campaign manager and a GOP strategist, said he anticipates that in the months ahead the transition will prompt many Democrats -- both elected officials and voters -- to switch to the Republican Party.
But the developments also had county Democrats expressing concern yesterday that partisan politics could mean a divisive government, with key decisions being made along party lines.
"The Republican Party is feeling its oats right now, and they want to say they have control of things," said Vincent Gardina, D-5th, an incoming councilman. "They could shut the Democrats out, but I don't see that happening."