Diane Evans confounding Gary, staff Council chairwoman holding the line, even on GOP colleagues

A stickler for detail

County executive warns it's wrong time to be independent

August 25, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

What's gotten into Diane?

It is the question that has been asked for months -- first in confusion, now in fury -- around the Arundel Center's fourth-floor executive suite.

There, the county's big Republican men have been trying to salvage pension reform legislation while a prim Republican woman has been thwarting them at every turn four stories below.

In recent weeks, council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans has been sticking it to County Executive John G. Gary and his political offensive linemen, who have a penchant for pushing legislation with no small measure of machismo.

They thought she was a team player. They have been disappointed.

"We were Republicans when there was no one around to help us," Gary said last week of Evans and himself. "Now we have a chance to help each other. It's not the time to be independent. It's time to be part of a team."

Evans has almost single-handedly killed a pension bill that the administration pitched as the only way to save Anne Arundel's $750 million retirement system. Of the 52 changes proposed in ** the bill, Evans has sponsored 28 of them. More important, she wouldn't let the bill come up for a vote.

She has scolded administration officials, many of whom supported her election campaigns with time and money, for failing to make the case for their cost-cutting prescriptions.

"It's right here in black and white," she snapped last week when Chief Administrative Officer Robert J. Dvorak fumbled over an amendment to the bill.

Dvorak, who has known Evans for two decades, said, "I gave her a hell of a lot of advice in her 1990 campaign. My advice to her now is to get this [bill] behind her."

The legislation expires Sept. 3, after which the administration must introduce a new version -- "cleaned up," in Evans' parlance. She could have allowed a council vote by the deadline. But she refused, saying the bill needed more work.

"I am not a crusader," Evans, 47, said in an interview last week. "My loyalty is to my philosophy, not to an individual or a position."

But hallway whispers are growing louder that Evans is not promoting legislation that fits seamlessly with her brand of fiscal conservatism. Politically, the Arnold Republican would seem to have nothing to gain from postponing the vote.

"These delays can be costly for the county," said Jeanette D. Wessel, chief executive officer of the Anne Arundel Trade Council, a powerful local business lobby. "And we're not sure the county can afford that right now."

In the view of the bill's many critics, Evans has deftly derailed a sloppy administration attempt to overhaul the county's pension system. The reform, which would create a less-generous retirement plan for new employees, is projected to save the county an estimated $6 million annually.

In the administration's view, Evans has been exasperating. "I am befuddled," Gary said. "I thought that when it came time to step up to the plate and vote, she would."

But the critics shouldn't be so confused.

Evans has always been a stickler for legislative detail, for arranging things just so before moving on to the next matter. As the pension bill illustrates, she has little patience for flawed legislation, regardless of the party presenting it.

At a time when politicians are often described as studies in contradiction, Evans is remarkable for her evenness. It is a steely New England consistency, a conservatism rooted in caution. Not surprisingly, she names former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a tough Conservative, as a political role model.

Throughout her six years on the council, most of it as a member of the minority, she has cast tough votes -- whether for a high-span bridge over the Severn River or for a Glen Burnie county jail -- that could harm her chances in countywide races.

Along the way, she has learned the unglamorous lesson that careful work is often more important than charisma when it comes to pitching -- or voting on -- complicated legislation. It is a lesson learned from watching Robert R. Neall, a consummate consensus builder, who as county executive cultivated support for the Glen Burnie jail during her first council term.

"Diane is no enigma," said Jim Martin, vice president of the

Severn River Association, an environmental group that has crossed swords with Evans in the past. "She does her homework. She's very earnest."

Said Dennis P. Howell, president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 70, "She has not done tremendous things for labor, but she has been fair."

But Evans' plodding, a result of wanting to get it right in council chambers rather than face the courtroom, has led some critics to describe her in less flattering terms.

"I always felt she was indecisive when it came to making some major decisions," said state Sen. C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Millersville Republican who served on the council with Evans from 1990 through 1994.

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