Mary Rose is fed up. The clerk of the county's Circuit Court is so sick of what she calls the "micromanagement" of her office by state court officials that she can't see herself running for re-election to the job she's held for less than a year and a half.
A leader in county Republican politics, Rose is talking about higher office. In fact, she's talking county executive -- if the conditions are right.
"I find it difficult to stay here because they don't let me manage. The fact that so much of my power and authority has been taken away, it's not much of a challenge," Rose said last week. "I like a challenge. If Bob Neall were to run for governor and (the county executive's office) opened up, that would be a challenge."
Rose may well issue more press releases than all previous county clerks of court combined, although she denies that that has anything to do with her aspirations for higher office. And she rarely misses a chance to needle Robert C. Murphy, chief judge of the state Court of Appeals, and officials from the state Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for what she sees as a move to expand their bureaucracy.
In fact, the releases she faxes to newspapers almost always are full of phrasings -- buzz words, one could argue -- straight from the smaller-government-is-better-government chapter of the Republican Party lexicon. Mary McNally Rose is, after all, a former chairwoman of the county's Republican State Central Committee.
Example: "This report is another example of a bureaucratic agency which is unwilling to give up a part of its empire, even if doing so would mean better service and a savings to the taxpayer."
That excerpt came from a release challenging an AOC study that rejected her plan to turn over photocopying work in thecourt house to private industry as a possible cost-cutting move.
Then there was the time she released copies of her testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on an ill-fated bill -- backed by Judge Murphy -- to make clerks of court appointed rather than elected positions.
"Removal of an office from the democratic process," she said, "usually means unaccountable bureaucracy with more waste, higher spending and an imperial arrogance.
"Running for elective office is not for all of us," she added. "Knocking on doors, shaking thousands of hands,
looking into people's eyes and listening to their concerns is not a job for everyone. Not all have the mustard. I certainly wouldn't expect Judge Murphy or his career staff to necessarily understand this."
And shortly after the General Assembly session startedin January, she took the time to testify in favor of a Republican state budget proposal, arguing against tax increases and in favor of cutting "fat in bureaucracy."
"If the words I use are sharp," Rose said, "it is deliberate to attract the attention to the problem I face."
This comes from a former White House personnel manager, a 45-year-old Republican devout enough to surround herself with party members great and small. Her office walls are adorned with photographs of Ronald Reagan; her chief deputy clerk is Robert P. Duckworth, twice anunsuccessful Republican congressional candidate; and her assistant is Douglas Arnold, a member of the Republican Central Committee.
The latest in a series of run-ins between Rose and officials from the AOC involves ancient, bulky binders.
The binders, which hold decades-old dockets, are falling apart. She looked at her $3.6 million budget for the current fiscal year, saw she was accumulating a surplus approaching half a million dollars, and decided to spend $7,000 to repair them.
But officials in the AOC vetoed that plan in favor of having volunteers -- retirees -- retype the docket pages.
Micromanagement, Rose fumed.
To understand the rough edges in the relationship between the AOC and Rose and other clerks, you have to look at the background of the office, said Frank Broccolina, deputy state court administrator.
For more than a century, clerk's offices in Marylandoperated independent of one another. But in 1990, voters passed a referendum moving the offices under the aegis of the AOC, the administrative arm of the state Court of Appeals that also runs Maryland's district courts.
Officials in the AOC stand above the clerks in the hierarchy -- sort of.
Rose says she answers to the voters and not the court officials, yet those officials must approve her decisions. Broccolina agrees the situation is fuzzy.
"You don't run into this kind of relationship every day in state government," he said. "It's difficult in the sense that we can't just push a button and make things happen out there."
But the rough edges are nothing more than that, he says. "I don't think Mary and this office disagree on the goals. We sometimes disagree on the means," he said, adding, "We agree on more than we disagree."
For her part, Rose says, "The only time wereally butt heads is when we get to this constitutional question of where the power of the clerk's office begins and ends."
The head-butting began within hours of Rose taking office in December 1990. Shemoved immediately to fire three longtime courthouse employees. The AOC said it had to approve the move. Rose said she didn't need the AOC's approval.
In the end, the AOC gave its approval, but the spats continue.
In another show of defiance, Rose says the AOC told her not to respond to a state Department of Fiscal Services audit of courthouse performance. She says she responded anyway.
Broccolina saysthere are advantages to moving the clerks' offices into a state bureaucracy. Lawyers and title searchers who operate in more than one county will benefit from uniformity. And the courts can now buy suppliesin bulk.
But Rose remains unswayed that passing the referendum was a bad idea. And she says it just might drive her to find a new job.