County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk defended herself yesterday against recent criticism from County Executive Janet S. Owens, the latest twist in a long-standing rift between the two Democrats.
At the start of a County Council budget hearing, Samorajczyk tried to justify her tendency to question county officials aggressively -- behavior Owens called uncivil in a letter Friday to Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr.
Although Owens' letter did not identify the council member in question, people close to the council say she was referring to Samorajczyk, who has annoyed Owens with her frequent queries, especially on land-use issues.
Samorajczyk said Owens was out of bounds.
"I submit that civility would dictate that such a personal attack on any individual would never occur," Samorajczyk said, adding "that such unsubstantiated conclusions represent the very type of statements that may actually create the problem identified in the letter."
Owens wrote, without going into detail, that the council member had yelled at one county official and called a department head "deceitful."
Owens was in Nashville, Tenn., yesterday and her spokesman offered little elaboration. Samorajczyk declined to comment further after the meeting.
"The letter was civil in tone and went as far as pointing out a problem without naming a councilman," said Andrew C. Carpenter, Owens' spokesman.
Samorajczyk told the audience there have been times when county staff members gave answers that were "less than fully responsive" and made statements that were "just plain untrue." She did not provide examples.
Questioning such statements does not amount to berating anyone, she said. "Rather, it is simply a matter of doing the job we were elected to do."
In other business during yesterday's budget hearing, County Auditor Teresa Sutherland, who works for the council, recommended a variety of cuts in Owens' $1.06 billion budget.
The largest item involves a new police and fire communication system that Owens says is needed to eliminate "dead zones" around the county.
Sutherland did not object to the project.
However, she took issue with the Owens administration for budgeting only $15 million of the cost, which could range from $23 million to $28 million, depending on how the county pays for it.
She recommended deleting funding from the budget unless the administration can cover the entire cost within affordability guidelines.
The county school board and Superintendent Carol S. Parham are pressing the council to bump up education funding -- the one area of the budget the council can add to under law.
Parham and three board members met Monday with three council members -- Klosterman, Cathleen M. Vitale and Shirley Murphy -- to ask for about $2 million in extra funding.
The board is seeking more school psychologists and guidance counselors, as well as salary increases for teachers of children who are temporarily hospitalized or homebound for medical reasons.
In addition, Parham and the board want the council to give principals and assistant principals pay raises of 4 percent, instead of the 2 percent Owens offered.
Teachers will receive 5 percent raises, including 1 percent from the state.