No one lining up to chair council

Most members unenthusiastic about time-consuming post

Columbia

October 30, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

In an odd turn of events in the Byzantine world of Anne Arundel County politics, the role of council chairman, a title that was once coveted by elected officials for its perks of power, now seems to be languishing without an interested candidate who could win the spot.

No one - not even those who sought to head the County Council in past years - is openly lobbying for the position, which carries a higher salary, but also the job of running council meetings, presenting legislation and conferring with the county's state delegation.

Shirley Murphy, a Pasadena Democrat whose term as chairwoman ends next month, said recently that she has no interest in another term in the position.

Of the other six council members, four are Democrats, which virtually eliminates the Republican members as candidates.

And all but two of the Democrats have more or less taken themselves out of the running because of political leanings, family commitments or personality conflicts.

Remaining are Democrats Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. and Bill D. Burlison.

Klosterman, who has held the position twice, said yesterday that he would rather give someone else an opportunity to sit in the center seat.

"If Bill's interested, that would be fine," said Klosterman, an accountant from the 2nd District who held the position for two consecutive years before Murphy.

But Burlison, who is from the 4th District, is sending mixed signals.

"I am not going to actively and energetically seek the chairmanship in this election year," said Burlison, who commonly refers to his colleagues on the council as "gentleman" or "gentle lady."

"But if my colleagues select me," he said yesterday, "then I will be willing to serve."

Despite the mixed message, Burlison, a cordial parliamentarian who likes to wear colorful coats and pants, looks as if he could be the next chairman, if only because no one else wants the job.

"Isn't that sad?" Klosterman said of the lack of interest.

"Bill would be kind of colorful," Klosterman said. "I think he'd throw something different into the mix. I think he'd be fun. He's a funny guy."

But some council members worry that Burlison's quirky image might further tarnish the elected board's reputation, already stained by reports of feuding among its members.

Also, Burlison is a diehard supporter of Democratic County Executive Janet S. Owens, and his voting record shows it.

"He chooses to be a sheep," said John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican.

Burlison, who enjoys posing rhetorical questions during council meetings that usually receive good-natured laughs, said he is proud of his working relationship with Owens.

"I think the council and the executive should work very closely together," said Burlison, who served as a Missouri congressman for 12 years before moving to Maryland. "That fosters better government."

The decision about the chairmanship - which is likely to be made in private by a majority of council members - is weeks away, and far from set.

"I don't think anyone has even asked Bill if he wants it," said Murphy, whose last meeting at the helm will be Nov. 19.

"I should call him," Klosterman said.

Most council members said they don't want the top position because of the added responsibilities.

"It is a grueling pace, with people to meet and jobs to do," Murphy said.

In an election year filled with fund-raising dinners and get-out-the-vote shopping center appearances, few council members seem willing to take on the extra work.

"That's the reason I volunteered to do it last year, because it wasn't an election year," said Murphy, a former catering professional and neighborhood activist.

Six of the seven council members are running for re-election next year. Klocko, an attorney and property manager, who is in his second term as a council member representing South County, can't run again because of term limits. His current term expires in December next year.

While Klocko's legislative experience might make him a viable candidate, his being a Republican is almost sure to rule him out. Severna Park attorney Cathleen M. Vitale, the other council Republican, also is an unlikely choice.

"Yeah, it's pretty much a long shot," said Klocko. Still, Klocko, who has been critical of Murphy's tenure, said recently that he'd like to take a stab at the job because he'd be good at it.

Murphy, who frequently bungles parliamentary procedures and often allows speakers at meetings to speak for longer than their allotted three minutes, admits that the job might not have been a perfect fit for her.

Now Murphy mostly feels burned out. "I have no desire to take the job on ever again," she said.

Linthicum Democrat Pamela G. Beidle said her reasons for dodging the job are personal.

Her daughter, Lyndsey, 17, is a senior at North County High School, and the councilwoman doesn't want to miss weekend jaunts to college towns.

Another council member who likely won't be chairwoman is Annapolis Democrat Barbara D. Samorajczyk. Her relationship with Owens is icy at best. Recently, Samorajczyk loudly criticized the executive's decision to sign a long-term development agreement with a New Jersey firm to renovate Parole Plaza.

"It would be an honor to serve," said Samorajczyk, who served as vice chairwoman this year. "But that doesn't mean that I'd be the choice of the others."

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