The mystery about why Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) decided to propose the creation of a senior-level higher education adviser position in the county government is unraveling.
Because it would be the first such position in the state, Duncan's decision to request the position in his budget has plenty of skeptics on the County Council.
The post, which would cost taxpayers $113,000 annually, has become a prime target for council budget hawks interested in reducing the $3.6 billion budget. Several council members say they are not convinced that the higher education position is needed and are speculating whether it is designed to boost Duncan's image should he run for governor.
"We all support higher education, but I think the case has yet to be made as to why there needs to be a separate adviser," said council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large).
Council members George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) and Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty) said Montgomery already has a higher education adviser, Montgomery College President Charlene R. Nunley.
Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) asked why Duncan waited until his 10th year in office to request the position.
But the idea for the position apparently originated with Gene Counihan, chairman of Montgomery College's Board of Trustees.
"I think we are at a threshold in terms of higher education in the county," said Counihan, who says he suggested the idea to Duncan six months ago.
In an interview, Counihan, a former state delegate, equated the creation of the position to the foresight shown by former lawmakers in starting Montgomery College almost 60 years ago and the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, a biotechnology research and development park, two decades ago.
Duncan said the position will demonstrate the county's commitment to its growing network of public and private institutions, including the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University.
"The state is backing away from support for education, so I want to do what we can to keep it vibrant in Montgomery County," Duncan said.
Duncan Cheers O's
Duncan probably had one of the best seats at Camden Yards on Monday when he traveled to Baltimore for the Orioles' home opener.
Duncan watched the game from Orioles owner Peter Angelos's skybox. David Weaver, a Duncan spokesman, said Angelos invited Duncan because the "two have a good relationship and always have."
Widely regarded as one of the most powerful men in Baltimore, Angelos is a lawyer and major donor to Democratic candidates.