Diane Evans is either the best or the worst thing to happen to the County Council in years, depending on whom you talk to.
To her supporters, the first-year council member is a much-needed dissenting voice on a council that had gotten all too comfortable with 7-0 votes. To her critics, her tactics border on ambush, ignoring established council protocol and introducing changes to legislation with little or no warning.
"She is neither bashful nor shy about taking on the full measure of her duties," said Severna Park resident Mark Anderson, a longtime Democrat and Evans supporter. "She follows her conscience rather thanthe rules, and she's a lot less tolerant of glibness, and it shows. As time rolls on, we can expect great things from her."
But Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, said, "I really was looking forwardto working with her when she came on the council, but she's really difficult to work with. She's a one-person judge and jury."
What ismost baffling about the Arnold Republican is that she actually seemsto enjoy being the center of controversy.
"The special hell of someone like me is knowing you're going to be shot at from both sides, and I'm comfortable with that," Evans said. "I try to take the best of all sides and find a middle ground."
When Evans ran for office last year, she promised to be an independent voice championing fiscal conservatism. What she has delivered is anything but business as usual.
She is described by supporters and critics alike as hard-working, intelligent, articulate and well-informed. She has done well providing constituent service, getting a bike path for a dangerous curve in Manhattan Beach, getting a sidewalk for Pasadena Elementary School and resolving problems at an Arnold recycling center.
But her tactics have rubbed some people the wrong way, and that is an area even her supporters say she could improve.
In her first months on the council, Evans sparked controversy with a resolution not to give the school board any more money until it changed its spending habits. Then,she publicly aired and criticized a memo former Council Chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett had written suggesting the council exempt legislative employees from a limit on the amount of vacation time they could accumulate.
Clagett was angry that Evans made the letter public while she was out of town. "I don't think I would ever treat a colleague that way," Clagett said at the time.
Despite the criticism, Evans didn't change her tactics. When Lamb introduced a resolution opposing a new high bridge over the Severn River, Evans amended the bill without warning to say the state should proceed with the high bridge ifmoney for a redesigned lower bridge wasn't found soon.About 250 people who had packed the council chambers booed Evans, and Lamb told her, "Congratulations. You have successfully dynamited this resolution."
Evans introduced the amendment because she was concerned the project would lose $32 million in federal money.
The bridge vote impressed former County Executive Joseph W. Alton, who said he thinks Evans would make a good county executive. "She has a lot of courage," Alton said. "She certainly doesn't do the expedient thing, and she has afiscal concern I think is healthy. I'm very impressed with her."
She has run into trouble with two powerful groups in her district, the Magothy and Severn river associations, and alienated Shipley's Choice residents by co-sponsoring a redistricting plan that would move that community out of her district. She said she is working on a compromise redistricting plan in response to the concerns of Shipley's residents.
At the Severn group's request, she sponsored a bill that would have allowed money set aside for planting trees along the shoreline to buy woodlands. But she invited developers to an early meeting on the bill, upsetting association members.
"That was disturbing," said SRA member Stuart Morris.
But Evans said she was just trying to get comments from all groups affected by the bill.
"I try to take the best of all sides and find a middle ground," Evans said. "That's the best way to make decisions. I will listen to all interest groups, but I will be owned by none. I will make my own decisions."
Although Evans isn't shy about taking on most people, some observers say she has been co-opted by County Executive Robert R. Neall, whose initiatives she usually supports, especially during the recent fiscal crisis. She worked as an aide to Neall when he served in the General Assembly.
Both Evans and Neall dispute the charge. "Because I vote for his measures, people interpret that as meaning something. But if I feel the same way philosophically, why would I vote differently?" Evans said.
Said Neall, "She's an ally and a longtime friend, but she's also intelligent and has strongly held opinions, and she's as apt to express those to me as anyone else. She's probably one of the people least apt to be influenced."
Evans won't speculate about whatthe future holds for her, but Anderson predicted that her rough spots will be smoothed with time.
"She comes out and tells people whatshe thinks," Anderson said. "That certainly hurts people's feelings,but to the extent that it hurts her legislative clout, I think that's something that will improve with seasoning."
Staff writer Elise Armacost contributed to this story.