A year of extraordinary cooperation between Howard County government's Democrats and Republicans dissolved into a bitter exchange during yesterday's County Council meeting to approve a $755 million budget for next fiscal year.
Republican Councilmen Allan H. Kittleman and Christopher J. Merdon accused Democratic County Executive James N. Robey of misleading them during budget negotiations.
"I don't like going into a room feeling I had to bring a tape recorder," Kittleman said. Merdon said his relationship with Robey "has tremendously deteriorated over the last two weeks." The two councilmen accused Robey of promising them three things concerning the budget, but then changing his stance.
`Slandered so much'
Robey, who watched the comments live on cable television two floors above the council chambers in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City, denied the accusations.
"I've spent 34 years in government and I've never been slandered so much in my entire life," Robey said. Pointing to a tape recorder on his office table, he said he'd never be without it in future talks with the GOP. "I've been in fights in bars before as a cop where I didn't get beat up as bad as today."
Despite the bickering, everyone seemed pleased with the end product -- a 12 percent increase in spending for schools that will cut the size of every first- and second-grade class from 25 to 19 students, plus more middle school reading teachers and a 6 percent increase in teachers' starting pay. In addition, the budget will provide 16 new police officers, 15 new firefighters and $50 million worth of new and renovated schools, plus a new regional park in the western county -- all with no increase in county taxes, except for water and sewer fees.
The tension produced during several weeks of sometimes tense budget talks was evident in yesterday's accusations, when both Republicans said Robey refused to compromise on anything.
GOP sought list
Robey denied that and said he never promised, for example, to support Merdon's idea to raise fees for development permits as a way of giving county schools an extra $460,000. He said he told the Republicans that he would not oppose raising the fees -- not that he would support their move. The fees were raised by the Democrat-controlled five-member council as one of yesterday's series of votes.
On a second point, Robey said he received a list of $1 million in possible cuts from the Howard Department of Public Works to further aid schools, gave it to two County Council members but did not propose an amendment shifting all the money to schools.