After years of 7-0 votes, it's a new era on the County Council -- less predictable, less civil, less boring.
Starting with its first meeting after the 1990 election, when freshman Councilman Carl G. "Dutch" Holland asked Councilman David G. Boschert to "enlighten me on your qualifications," this council has provided surprises, conflict anda striking contrast to the homogeneity of previous years.
"There is disagreement, if not controversy, which makes it more interesting," said Stuart Morris, a member of Anne Arundel's Republican Central Committee.
Before, the council had seven Democrats who generally agreed on everything. When they didn't, the three women usually went against three of the men, with Boschert, D-Crownsville, making the difference.
Now, the five Democrats and two Republicans generally agree on nothing. And the division doesn't run along party lines. The Democrats may have more council seats, but the Republicans have the votes.
"The Democrats," said Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, "have had it on that council."
Lamb readily admits that her influence, as well as that of fellow veteran and former Chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett, D-West River, is waning. Only Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, consistently aligns himself with them.
The new majority voting bloc belongs to the two Republicans -- Pasadena's Holland and Diane R. Evans of Arnold -- and Democrats Boschert and George F. Bachman of Linthicum.
Earlier this month, the four combined to make Boschert the new chairman and Holland the vice chairman. They also introduced a controversial redistricting plan that keeps politically powerful Crofton out of Boschert's district.
Said Middlebrooks, "It's too early to tell if an actual coalition is formed, but it will be interesting to see if Dave and George form a coalition with Dutch and Diane, who have opposite views from them."
Boschertdenies any behind-the-scenes maneuvering between the four. "I am notworking any closer with them than any of the others," he said. "I goon the merits of the bill before me."
The single biggest change, observers agree, is Evans. A conservative who plays by no one's rules, Evans has sparked controversy by introducing surprise amendments and resolutions and by publicly criticizing fellow council members.
While the council has produced some noteworthy legislation, mostly onmoral issues such as peep shows and massage parlors, its biggest moment came when the five Democratic council members, led by Boschert, challenged County Executive Robert R. Neall'sbudget authority.
Boschert's proposal, which expanded the council's budget authority beyondwhat the county allows, was approved. But the council never used itspower, and Neall got his revised budget passed by making a token compromise. Neall signed a letter promising to restore the money if the state made no further cuts -- which it did last week.
The council gave Neall what he wanted most of the year. The budget crisis was theonly time the council tried to flex its muscles, and even then, Neall won.
"When it comes to scrubbing a budget, Bobby Neall is known as one of the best, if not the best," Anderson said. "I think the council rightly deferred to him on the budget."
Holland and Evans supported Neall throughout the crisis. Council members said the two Republicans worked closely with Neall and met with him frequently.
Boschert said he plans to use that working relationship as chairman. "I do discuss issues with them, as they have the ear of the executive, to let him know the will of the council," Boschert said. "Sometimes they may be able to get in where I can't."
As for the future, Clagett said the council will continue to be more unpredictable than past councils. "No one will be able to predict with any certainty which waythe council will vote," she said. "The issues before the council aretoo complex."