Standing up for his rights to sit down comfortably in Rockville, Montgomery County Council President Pro Tem Michael L. Gudis yesterday defended his $604.39 chair.
The 11 adjustable executive office chairs just purchased for County Council members and officers have become hot seats in a current controversy.
"I think our council members, people in a position to have to sit for such long stretches, deserve to have their posteriors comforted," said Thomas Abraham, director of the Montgomery County Department of Facilities and Services. "You can't get many chairs that will comfort you for under $600."
Abraham said, "You ask Mr. Potter about the price of almost anything and he'll say it's too much."
In fact, council member Neal Potter and some other people on the other side of the controversy have to take a deep breath and sit down when they think about an executive office chair that costs that much. "I guess I still think about 1930s' prices," said Potter, who has been on the council 12 1/2 years, longer than anyone else. "Someone says $600 to me and I think it's enough to buy a car."
"Chairs are like cars. You can buy a Toyoto or a Cadillac," said Carm Cammaroto, the man from Ginn's who won the bid to sell the chairs to the council. "This chair is a Chevy.
"The chair was specified by Perkins & Will, the architects and interior designers. Kron manufactured the high-back swivel armchair with a tilt mechanism and pneumatic height adjustment, a polished aluminum frame on casters, upholstered with three yards of a $19-a-yard Cartwright fabric. That's certainly not high end."
Gudis said yesterday, "Sometimes the council has to sit for 13 or 14 hours in a row, meeting three or four times a week. We have council members who are 6-feet-4-inches, as is council President David Scull. We have others as short as 5 feet. We need a chair which will be suitable for all shapes and sizes. The old chair we've used for 20 years or so, and will still use in the hearing room, would cost $3,000 to replace."
Potter said although the cost still disturbed him, after having his first look at one of the $604.39 chairs yesterday, "It's less luxurious and more suitable than the ones we've had. It takes a strong man to turn over the others to adjust them. But I'd still like to look at some price lists. I don't know what the market has to offer. In general, I'm flabbergasted at that price."
Abraham said, "I know for a fact, a lot of chairs cost significantly more, some twice as much. No, we didn't inquire as to what we could have bought from States Use Industries, the county prisons. I don't think they'd make appropriate furniture. Our architects, designers--both in and out of the house--and our staff spent a long time deciding on the right kind of chair. We held bids on it."
The Montgomery County Council chair is no throne, according to Cammaroto, Ginn's vice president of furniture and interior design. "You can buy one from Kittinger or Dunbar with a wood frame, solid brass base, down cushions, covered in a good leather or $70-a-yard fabrics with French seaming. A chair like that would cost $3,000 and last you 15 years.
"We sell a lot of $1,500 chairs with pneumatic controls, some with adjustment memories and a little gauge that tells you what degree the tilt is. Bells and whistles. Ergonomics, the study of the way people use furniture, is important these days.
"Of course, you can pay $300 for a chair. But it won't have as much you can adjust. It would raise and lower with a tension on the tilt and that's about it. Depending on how much you sat in it, it would last only about seven years and not look as good."
Other suppliers agree that $600 isn't much for that kind of a chair. "We might have been able to save them a few dollars," said Stanley Schaper, head of Scan's commercial division. "But you can't buy much below $550. And many of our chairs go up to $2,500."
No one argues that out in Rockville, those sitting on the council dais will have the best seats in the house. CAPTION: Picture, The $600 chair