An offer from the two lawyers in Baltimore County's People's Counsel office to surrender a combined $13,000 in salary next year has prompted County Executive Roger B. Hayden to relent and leave intact the position of deputy people's counsel.
The decision appears to defuse what had become a hot controversy among community groups over one of Mr. Hayden's smallest budget cuts, first proposed last spring. Because of the furor, he delayed the cut until Dec. 31 and then again until March 31.
Mr. Hayden has also backed away from earlier statements about forming an oversight committee to evaluate the office's performance, although he said yesterday he plans to continue discussing that with the County Council.
To save $12,000, Mr. Hayden proposed replacing Deputy People's Counsel Peter Max Zimmerman with a lower-paid paralegal. That raised a firestorm of protest among civic leaders, who see the independent office as their strongest ally in their battles against development.
Had the cut been carried out, Mr. Zimmerman would have continued working for the county, but in the Office of Law.
In a 1974 referendum, voters created the People's Counsel office to be a public advocate, to defend the county's zoning maps and to fight proposed developments seen as harming established communities.
Phyllis C. Friedman, People's Counsel since 1984, volunteered to give up $8,000 of her $50,445 salary, while Mr. Zimmerman would lose $5,000 from his $36,377 pay. Both attorneys work part-time for the county.
"I'm pleased. I'm delighted the staffing issue is resolved," Mrs. Friedman said upon hearing of the executive's decision. She has maintained throughout that two lawyers are needed to properly operate the office because of a heavy caseload.
County Councilman Vincent Gardina, D-5th, one of the office's strongest supporters, said Mr. Hayden's decision to keep the deputy job is "a good decision. The office serves an important role in the community."
Mary Basso, president of the Alliance of Baltimore County Community Councils, an umbrella group for 15 smaller area councils, said she too was pleased that the deputy's post would be retained.
She added that her group is dead set against formation of any oversight committee, and Mr. Gardina agreed.
"That would be blatantly political," she said.
"The whole idea for the creation of the People's Counsel was to make it and keep it non-political."