House bill sets up conflict Delegates vote to let governor appoint local school board

Effort dismissed as decoy

Senate measure would give power to executive

March 22, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel General Assembly delegation tied itself in political knots yesterday as House of Delegates members endorsed a bill keeping the power to appoint school board members with the governor.

The bill, passed in a State House lounge after a flurry of hallway lobbying and horse trading, conflicts with one the Senate passed Monday that gives Anne Arundel's executive the appointment power.

If the full House approves the measure, it will go to a joint conference committee, where six legislators three from each house will try to reconcile the bills.

Democratic delegates immediately dismissed the House bill as a decoy meant to distract a well-organized opposition from legislative developments to come.

"I didn't get to the legislature on the back of a turnip truck," said Del. Marsha G. Perry, a Crofton Democrat who voted against the bill. "This has become far, far too political."

County Executive John G. Gary, who wants greater financial control over the school system's $416 million budget, said he would be surprised if any bill emerged this session, which ends April 8.

"This legislation is in real trouble," said Mr. Gary, a former Republican delegate from Millersville. "The bills are far apart, and this late in the session I doubt they'll be able to hammer something out."

The committee to reconcile the bills will be appointed by Del. Phillip D. Bissett, an Edgewater Republican, and Sen. John A. Cade, a Severna Park Republican.

The four delegates who voted yesterday against the House bill, which passed with nine votes, fear that the powerful legislators and close allies of Mr. Gary will pack the conference with colleagues who favor the Senate bill.

The county delegation would get another look at the measure before it goes to both houses for a final vote.

Fierce political fight

The Senate bill has set off a fierce political fight pitting parents, teachers and board members against the county's Republican administration.

Whatever the outcome, yesterday offered an outlandish display of legislative maneuvering.

Mr. Bissett, who chairs the county's House delegation, wielded the power of his post by delaying a scheduled morning vote, only to call an impromptu delegation meeting five hours later.

The House delegation gathered in a hearing room early yesterday to consider a bill that would make Mr. Gary the only county executive in Maryland with the power to appoint school board members.

An audience, notified of the session, had gathered.

But Mr. Bissett, who has been lining up votes, postponed the roll call, fearing a defeat that would have precluded a conference committee endorsement of the bill to give Mr. Gary appointment power.

Observers say he was one vote short of the number needed to send the bill on with official delegation sponsorship.

Mr. Bissett said new amendments prompted the delay.

Later, his office acknowledged that no changes had been offered in the last few days.

'You'll be sorry'

But after an afternoon House session, Mr. Bissett pulled county delegates into a lounge and called for a vote on the measure that would preserve the current nominating system.

"I protest this," Ms. Perry told him.

"You'll be sorry," he reportedly responded.

The bill's sponsor, Republican Del. John R. Leopold of Pasadena, said later: "We often vote in the lounge late in the session."

Rumors of pork-barrel give-aways and promised retribution had swirled around the delegation most of the day.

One rumor held that Del. George W. Owings III, a Chesapeake Beach Democrat, would get a $12 million sewer system for his district in exchange for his vote.

But it's already in the budget.

Another story making the rounds said that Del. Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, would be fired from his county Recreation and Parks job if he didn't back his boss.

"I'm going to fire my best friend in the Assembly over this bill?"

Mr. Gary laughed. "That's asinine."

Unprecedented tactics

Longtime legislators called yesterday's tactics unprecedented in the local delegation.

"This is the first time I've ever seen politics enter into the operation of our school system like this," said Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat who fought the Senate version.

"When school issues came up, we used to put partisan politics and parochial interests aside. Now we're heading down a slippery slope," Mr. Jimeno said.

Mr. Gary has said the bill would strengthen his control over the education budget, which accounts for 57 percent of county spending. But opponents fear it would extend Mr. Gary's reach into education policy.

'They're pounding me'

The high stakes have spawned strident lobbying.

Del. Joan Cadden, a Brooklyn Park Democrat, said that Mr. Owings told her while they were outside the State House Wednesday night, "They're pounding me, they're just pounding."

Mr. Gary said that if a bill failed to emerge from conference committee, he would try again next year. A committee will be convened in the next few weeks.

"I think the school system needs to be saved from itself," Mr. Gary said. "And I think it's going to take someone from outside their bureaucracy to do that."

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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