People's Counsel resigning June 1 in Baltimore County

April 07, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

In a letter of resignation, Phyllis Cole Friedman, Baltimore County's People's Counsel, has recommended imposing a 12-year term limit on the job and keeping it part time.

Mrs. Friedman, who has held the job since 1984, gave notice last week, effective June 1. She suggested the term limit to prevent the kind of controversy that erupted two years ago when County Executive Roger B. Hayden cut funds to pay Deputy People's Counsel Peter Max Zimmerman.

Mr. Zimmerman's job was saved after both lawyers voluntarily took a combined $13,000 pay cut.

Mrs. Friedman also suggested making the deputy's position mandatory by law, ensuring that at least two lawyers would staff the office. To minimize political influence in filling the job, the 12-year term should expire in the middle of a county executive's four-year term, she said.

Mrs. Friedman, who first worked for Baltimore County as a teacher in 1966, said preserving the part-time nature of the People's Counsel jobs would help the lawyers maintain a degree of independence. Part-time status also means lawyers can keep private practices.

County voters created the People's Counsel in 1974 to defend the county's zoning maps, to be an independent legal voice, and to be a public advocate in zoning and development disputes.

Mrs. Friedman often was at odds with businessmen and developers. She said she has long planned to retire from the job so she could devote her time and abilities to other interests, such as homeless-advocacy and charitable groups.

"I've accomplished a lot with the People's Counsel," she said. "I want to do other things."

Lawyers close to the 1991 controversy believed Mr. Hayden's budget cut was prompted by business advocates angry about Mrs. Friedman's opposition to a request for special zoning for the proposed Worldbridge Asian Trade and Amusement Center. Mr. Hayden, who was not available for comment yesterday, has denied those allegations. The project was abandoned for lack of financing.

Mrs. Friedman, 58, taught until 1973, then entered the University of Maryland Law School. She graduated in 1977 and went to work for the county representing the school board. She has worked as a lawyer for private firms and in public practice.

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