The First 100 Days: Cuts And Cutthroats

County Council Lurches Down A 'Rocky' Road

March 24, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

One county councilman has publicly jabbed another about being unemployed. A third appointed his best friend's son to an important county panel. Several have accused each other of swinging back-room deals.

"It's been rocky," said Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, of the County Council's first 100 days.

And it could get even rockier. A month from now, the council willstart wrangling over what promises to be a Spartan fiscal 1992 budget. Everyone agrees some programs must be cut. But the seven council members agreeing on what must go seems doubtful.

"It's going to take some effort to come up with a budget this year," Lamb said. "We're all very conscious of what the voters said (about spending tax dollars responsibly). Any program is in jeopardy. Expect disagreement about what should be cut."

Some government panels go to great pains tohide their inner conflicts and disagreements from the public. This new County Council has not been one of them.

Council Chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River, in her fifth term, said the council's fractious honeymoon is "par for the course." With four new council members, one expects taking some time to feel others out and get used to personalities, she said.

Clagett acknowledged that there have been some "unusual" confrontations.

Bickering started during the council's first meeting, Dec. 3, when new members argued over who should be chairman and vice chairman -- a decision that in the past has been made with little discussion and controversy.

New members George Bachman, D-Linthicum, and Carl G. "Dutch" Holland, R-Pasadena, accused their colleagues of working out a deal to give returning Councilman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, the chairmanship next year if he supported Clagett as chairman and settled for the vice chairmanship now.

Holland griped that he'd never been asked for his opinion about who should be vice chairman. He then asked Boschert not only to defend his qualifications, but also to explain if the fact that he was out of work and looking for a job would hamper his efforts as a councilman.

"That was sad," Lamb said.

"Usually we don't have colleagues being personal," Clagett said, attributing Holland's statements to "nervousness. When you're first elected, you want to come out in the open with everything you've ever felt."

Freshman Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, R-Arnold, said she agrees that personality conflicts should not be discussed in public. But she has taken the lead in bringing sensitive issues, such as the school board's fiscal accountability, into the public forum.

Her resolution not to give the school board any more money until it changes its spending habits sparked controversy and divided the council -- Evans, Bachman and Holland took the hard line, while Clagett, Lamb, Boschert and freshman Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, advocated more conciliatory measures.

Evans' resolution failed. But a task force on school spending grew out of the controversy.

More recently, Evans, supported by Holland and Bachman, unexpectedly released a letter condemning Clagett's suggestion to exempt council employees from a limit on the amount of vacation time they could accumulate. Clagett had made the suggestion in aninteroffice memo in which she asked for other council members' opinions.

While she said she had no problem with the substance of the letter, Clagett said it was unfair for Evans to have read it at a public meeting on a night when Clagett was out of town. "I don't think I would ever treat a colleague that way," she said.

Evans, a fiscal conservative, is proving a smart, valuable council member who does her homework, Clagett said. "But she really has to find her level as far as working with other people."

Evans said she feels good about her first 100 days in office.

"There are going to be times over thenext four years where I don't agree with my colleagues," she said. "There's a real difference in philosophy between us. If it has to do with the public and it has to do with their money, I think it should be public."

Holland and Bachman, an old-time North County politician who served on the council from 1964 to the early 1980s, have lined up behind Evans on the controversial issues the council has faced so far.

"We're philosophically aligned," Evans said. "We reflect what our constituents have asked for. Our fiscal approach is different from what the county had before."

The trouble, Lamb said, "is that that doesn't sit well with the people who have been around here awhile. We didn't think we did such a bad job.

"The council needs to getits act together and decide how it's going to handle problems," she said. "Either we are going to handle everything out front, or we're going to say there are some things we're going to have to do by confidential interoffice memo."

The quietest member of the new council has been Middlebrooks, who has sided with the three veteran council members on most issues. "I'm watching and learning," he said.

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