Last October, after one of their regular meetings, the executives of Maryland's seven most populous jurisdictions staged an elaborate press conference to make pronouncements about an issue on which their views were already well known.
Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason, obviously bored, sat at one end of the table dooding on a pad of paper and scrawling "Much Ado about Nothing."
Gleason's satiric comment was in keeping with his often aloof and independent attitude, which makes him appear not quite to fit in with his more conventional colleages in the group, which he helped organize.
Yesterday Gleason resigned from the group, informing his colleagues by letter that he took the action "rather than prolong a political charade and perhaps embarrass the rest of you by my presence . . .
In the letter Gleason said he took the action because, "Increasingly, the division of opinion has found me as the dissident voice in what otherwise might be considered as an unanimity of opinion among the other executives.
"Therefore," he continued, "I have regretfully concluded that the organization is not viable . . . to express (what) I view (as) the real concern of local government."
Gleason's resignation from the lobbying coalition formed to deal with common problems was uniformly described as "unfortunate" by its members who were reached for comment yesterday.
The group's members, which include the mayor of Baltimore and the county executives of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Prince George's counties, collectively represent, with Montgomery county, about 85 per cent of the state's population.
"I'm disappointed," said Baltimore County Executive Ted Venetoulis. "I know we didn't always agree, but I felt he contributed to the debate and dialogue. I would urge him to think it over."
However, to other observes, Gleason's action was no surprise.
"He's not been in accord with several decisions and appears to take a differend approach in many, many matters," said one person close to the group. "That community of interest has been lacking."
In an interview yesterday Gleason said his resignation stemmed from a disagreement with the group's decision to press for more state aid to school operating budgets without at the same time recommending sources of revenue for the money.
Gleason termed the action "the height of irresponsibility" and said it was "part of a game" to get the state government to assume more and more responsibility for programs local government should operate.
He said the "pattern that's developed over and over again" in the group caused him to question whether its real purpose was to strengthen local governments or simply transfer more responsibility to the state. He made it clear he thinks its purpose should be the former.
However, several observers said Gleason misunderstood the executives' decision on state aid. Gleason, because he attented a funeral, arrived nearly two hours late for the Thursday meeting in Annapolis.
Yesterday Gleason said the group sought an additional $49 million in state aid. But Anne Arundel County Executive Robert A. Pascal and others said the increase actually was closer to $28 million. Pascal also said the additional funds wouldn't be "new" money, but simply aid the state had been withholding from local school systems.
"The state has been underfunding the program," Pascal said. "We've just asking them to fulfill the promises they made."
Regardless of who is correct, few would dispute Gleason's assessment that "there's no real basic unanimity" between himself and the other executives.
Gleason, who was first elected to his post in 170 and re-elected in 1974, is a paradoxical political figure. Many observers agree that he has a sure grasp of county affairs and is ambitious for higher office, such as the governorship. But Gleason has deliberately adopted a low profile and disdains talk about his political future.
His penchant for informality, and rumpled clothes, and his willingness to let his sharp temper show with anyone from County Council members to ordinary citizens also has set him apart from his counterparts.
But Gleason, who says that the uncontrolled growth of local government bureaucracies and improvident spending are causes of the jurisdictions' economic problems, also appeared to have basic philosophical differences with the other executives. Those differences perhaps were reinforced by Montgomery County's relative wealth in comparison to the other jurisdictions.
To a considerable extent, Gleason's differences with the other executives probably reflected the "have" position of Montgomery County, one observer said.
"The tried at first for unanimity on decisions," the person remarked. "But later on the 6 to 1 votes became more common. Gleason was always the one negative vote. There was never anybody else."