After months of bickering over each other's expense accounts, Howard County Council members unanimously approved Monday a new budgeting process to limit their spending on travel, lodging meals and car phones.
The issue is not dead, however. The main antagonists in the debate -- council President Darrel E. Drown and Councilman C. Vernon Gray -- still are feuding over the amount of the new limit, which the council plans to set next month.
Drown, an Ellicott City Republican, and Gray, an East Columbia Democrat, have quarreled over the expense limit since last year, when Drown sought to limit council expenses -- a tiny but politically sensitive fraction of the county's spending.
In October, the council adopted an informal limit of $4,800. But when Gray exceeded it, Drown introduced a bill to begin a new, formal budgeting process for council members.
A compromise version of that bill, proposed by Republican Councilman Dennis R. Schrader, passed unanimously Monday night.
Next month, the council plans to set the same, as yet undetermined expense limit for all five council members.
Though he voted for the limit Monday, Gray has said that he is a more active council member than the others and that the expense limit is a politically motivated attack on his effectiveness.
Both Gray and Drown have talked of running for county executive, a factor that may sharpen the conflict.
When the council considers the expense limit next month, Drown plans to propose setting it at $4,800.
Because all county officials are cutting back expenses, he said, council members should not spend more than the informal limit set in October.
"That would be insane and absolutely contrary to what we're trying to do, and it would set a bad, bad precedent," Drown said.
Gray declined to suggest an expense limit in an interview yesterday, but he noted that the county executive has an expense budget of $13,000. He said his work plan would dictate the amount of expenses he would request.
"If someone feels they're not going to do much, they can present that, too," Gray said. "If someone wants to politicize the process, then that's a different matter."
Pub Date: 6/05/96