Divided Montgomery council elects Floreen as president

By Michael Laris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A deeply divided Montgomery County Council elected a pro-business president Tuesday, breaking with the county's tradition of making leadership decisions in private and a year in advance.

The 5 to 4 vote elevated member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large) to the senior leadership post instead of Vice President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), thrusting into the open hostilities among members of the all-Democratic council as it heads into an election year.

"A majority has spoken, and majority rules. But regrettably, not always wisely," said Berliner, who was elected vice president a year ago and began lobbying for the top job when it became clear that it was slipping away. In recent decades, the vice president has almost always moved up the next year.

Council member Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) was unanimously elected vice president Tuesday.

The council is facing far-reaching questions about where and how big the county of nearly 1 million people should grow and how to close a budget gap that officials say could top $600 million if spending increases aren't rolled back.

Floreen, a former planning commissioner and Garrett Park mayor, presented herself during Tuesday's council session as a pro-business leader who will focus on the tone and substance of the county's economic initiatives.

Berliner has cast himself as less enthusiastic about real estate development.

"We've been considered a business-unfriendly environment for years. I know that," Floreen said at the meeting, which included a briefing on plummeting tax revenue and stories of companies undercut by the recession. "It's a serious problem, and we need an attitude change."

Floreen did not offer any immediate initiatives but said she hopes to work with the county's economic development director, Steve Silverman, on specific plans.

The new council president broke with her predecessor, Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg-Rockville), on her approach to budget cuts. Montgomery's possible budget gap could reach $608 million, but that figure includes more than $150 million in wage and cost-of-living increases for county employees at a time when inflation is flat.

Andrews had drawn the ire of public employees' unions by calling for ditching all such increases next year.

"Not at this point," Floreen said when asked whether she would continue with Andrews's proposal for a wage freeze. "I'd want to work with the county executive on that."

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