On Dec. 21, the Montgomery County Council, acting on the recommendation of County Executive James P. Gleason, unanimously confirmed the appointment of Daivd R. Scotton of Laytonsville as a member of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
The next day, Scotton attended his first WSSC meeting and within minutes was in the middle of a heated controversy over the award of a lucrative consulting contract to retiring general manager, Robert J. McLeod.
Although Gleason had picked Scotton from a group of 47 applicants, and the council had greeted his selection warmly, Scotton's vote in favor of the contract was contrary to the wishes of Gleason and the council.
"The honeymoon was over by 10 o'clock," said Scotton of that WSSC meeting.
Scotton's position on the contract for McLeod may be representative of the role he will play on the commission. In an interview, Scotton said, "I have the feeling I'm not going to be the most popular commissioner that has gone to Hyattsville for Montgomery County because I'm going to want answers for many questions. Tradition is fine. But it isn't always the most efficient way to be doing something.
"I will want to know why we do certain things, the way we do them and what alternatives have beenexplored. I'm sure most of them are running great and have a very sound basis. But there may be some policies that should be changed.
The WSSC vote in favor of awarding the contract to McLead will keep him working for the WSSC beyond his Dec. 31 retirement. The contract gives McLead a base fee of $1,500 plus $75 an hour and all expenses as a counselor on the agency's sale of $70 million of bonds, tentatively set for the end of this month. The lone dissenter in the 51 vote was Montgomery commissioner Vera Berkman.
Gleason and other Montgomery County officials had been sharply critical of McLeod during his 11-year term as general manager.
Gleason, commenting through a spokesman, said Scotton's vote on the McLeod contract was "surprising," but that he was taking a lenient view of the action because Scotton was new to the board and not aware of all the board and not aware of all the strategies involved in the county's desire to dump McLeod.
Scotton admitted that Montgomery County officials were "upset with any extension of the contract."
"I was able to look at it more objectively," he added. "I wasn't so emotionally involved with the commission or McLeod."
Scotton said he voted for McLeod's contract because "certain staff people whose opinions I regard and a couple of commissioners including the commission chairman (Johanna S. Norris of Prince George's County) thought it was important to have him available for the bond sale. They felt that since he has such a good rapport with the bond people in New York that if they ran into any more snags with the bond people, he would be able to help."
Scotton added, "Some people view it that he's still going to maintain influence over the activities of the commission. I don't think that's the case. He's going to fade off like General MacArthur."
The 44-year-old Scotton was named to the $8,000-a-year WSSC position after a five-month search for a commissioner to fill the unexpired term of Floyd Peterson.Although Scotton is a Republican, as is Gleason, the members of the all Democratic council seemed visibly relieved when they approved his appointment.
Since Peterson's resignation in Deptember, Montgomery County had been operating at a disadvantage because they had only two members on the bi-county commission while Prince George's County was operating at full strength with three commissioners.
The imbalance was particularly felt in Montgomery County last month when objections from Prince George's commissioners delayed a long-awaited sewer service policy designed to spur sewer service policy designed to spur new development in Montgomery County. Development in the county has been slowed by a sewer moratorium established in 1971.
Scotton called his appointment to the commission is "a real challenge because the agency is about to embark on a period in its existence that undoubtedly will have many, many changes. The policies and changes that will be made over the next six months will probably set the tone for the next 10 to 15 years."
Many of those policies and changes are alos grounds for further disputes between Montgomery and Prince George's counties. For example, a $100,000 study financed by the counties to examine the possibility of dividing the commission between the two county goverments is scheduled to be finished in June. For years, Prince George's has blocked Montgomery County's efforts to spilt the commission.
The counties are expected to be at loggerheads over choosing the successor to McLeod, whose retirement was effective January 1. McLeod had close ties with Prince George's and some officials there officials there favor replacing him with another person who works for the commission. Montgomery County officials, however, want an outsider.
Scotton said the constant disputes between the two counties represent differences on philosophy - Prince George's is "pragmatic" while Montgomery County is "idealistic." He forecast that the differences will not dead-lock the commission but that there will many 4-2 vote tallies this year.
He apparently is counting on Joe O. Woodrick, a Prince George's commissioner, to vote with the Montgomery County commissioners. Last month Woodrick was the only Prince George's commissioners to vote later, bowing to pressure from his county's officials.
Referring to his predictions of 4-2 vote spilts, Scotton said, "I've played the political game for a long time and I know how it works. I'm not so naive I can't see the problems that affect that kind of situation."
He noted that commissioners can be removed from office by their county councils. "That might be a threat that may be held over some commissioners' heads. But I hope it doesn't come down to that," he said.
Scotton has been active in county government since 1966 when he was a precinct worker in former Rep. Gilbert Gude's first campaign. He later served as campaign manager for Guide and was on the Republican Party's state central committee.
Scotton has a masters degree in personnnel administration from George Washington University and owns a sporting goods store he founded in Olney. Before starting the store, he worked for market Tire Company, a $15 million firm in Rockville. In seven years with the company, Scotton rose from management trainee to vice president of operations.
Father of three boys and two girls, Scotton has been active in community service organizations including the county's Taxicab Service Advisory Committee, the county's Red Cross and the Goshen Citizens Association.
"I think you probably find that most people who are involved in community activities are people who want to be involved and sort of thrive on it. I guess that sort of sums me up with the rest of them," Scotton said.
"I'm sort of a hyperactive type," he added. "When I find something that interests me, I like to jump it with both feet and run."