The man who sits in front of the Prince George's County Council every Tuesday offering a cornucopia of information and recommendations is the Council's administrator, Kenneth V. Duncan.
A stocky, quiet man of 39, Duncan performs a role that was recently described by Council member Parris N. Glendening this way: "The Council may be the heart and policy making body of the county, but he's every one of the nerves and muscles that run it."
Through his nine-member staff and links with various county and state agencies, Duncan provides the Council with answers to questions on Metro, on budget and fiscal matters, on hospitals. He, along with the county clerk, Jean Schmuhl, make up the weekly Council agenda.
He monitors the movements of the state General Assembly and other federal and state agencies as they affect Prince George's. And he and his aides prepare much of the county's legislation at the direction of Council members.
"He's worth his weight in platinum," said Council member David G. Hartlove Jr. "He is the most conscientious, hardworking and dedicated employee that I have ever run into."
Duncan came to the Council in 1972, as the first administrative officer the Council had after the county received charter authority. "I guess it was the middle of that Council's first year in office," Duncan said. "They found out that they weren't going to be able to get along, all 11 of them, with 11 secretaries, and there was some rather intense fighting between William W. Gullett, who was then county executive, and the Council.
"Mr. Gullett was holding weekly press conferences and the game every week was to blast the Council - there were opposing political views and a power struggle left over from the old commission days. So the Council was looking for someone who would not only serve as administrator, but someone with a press background to try and counter the thing with Gullet and try to turn it around."
Duncan was then the executive director of the Greater Laurel Chamber of Commerce. But he ahd 10 years of experience in the newspaper business, first at the Associated Press in Baltimore, then at the Annapolis Evening Capitol.
"People said when I took this job that no person could last three months with the Council. You had not only the Council and Gullett going at each other's throats, you had about three factions on the Council itself.
"But I felt it would be a challenge to see if we couldn't get everybody to working together.
"It was interesting the first couple months. Mr. Gullett kept rapping the Council and finally I had a talk with his press aide, Jay Morris, who was staging these events every week. I told him that if this was the way they were going to operate that I would spend most of my time setting brush fires for them all over the county.
"I said it is a nice way. After that the press conferences became less and less frequent, and we were able to get some communication going between the Council and Gullett.
"In the first year, I became so involved in being an administrator, getting involved in planning issues and all kinds of other things, that I became less and less of a press man."
Duncan now has a press representative as well as experts on county planning, water and swer matters, legislation, federal grant funding, Metro, and the budget working for him.
"It's really being a team leader," Duncan says of his job. "If the Council wants something on the agenda . . . it's my job to see it's there with the answers they want and a good staff job done on it. If it's not a good staff job, I feel I'm the one who dropped the ball."
Duncan was born in Harford County, Md., and now lives with his wife, Kaye, and two children in Tantallon. He says a typical work day begins around 8:30 a.m. and ends at 7 p.m., with an hour of reading at home and 4 or 5 hours on the weekend.
"Generally, I'll try to make the weekend for my family. But if you want to do a good job, you have to be willing to spend the time. My wife is very understanding about that. She thinks I'm a little crazy because I'm a workaholic.
"But if you want to stay on top of things, and monitor what others are doing that will evenutally come before the Council, you have to read an awful lot of things, be conversant about things your staff members are working on."
With Duncan's acknowledged expertise on so many areas, his opinions often serve as a barometer to others in bi-county and county agencies. "I have to be somewhat cautions. When I express myself, I'm pretty sure of myself. I think part of that is due to the fact that I do know where the Council is most of the time. Or I have a good idea where they're going to be. Certainly I know where certain individuals (on the Council) are going to be.
"A little tenet of my business is that I work for 11 guys (including the two women Council members) who have to get elected every four years. One of my jobs is to see to it that they look as good as possible.
"If you read the Council rules, my channels are to the chairman. But that doesn't mean that I don't discuss policy issues with other members of the Council. One of the big jobs I have is to maintain contact with the Council members in an informal kind of atmosphere so I can understand where they're coming from on an issue."
Council members say Duncan's approach to the Council is very professional and very direct. "He never steers the Council in any direction on any issues," Hartlove said. "He presents the problem, lays it there and stops."
Duncan is adamant about the professional attitude necessary for his job. He sees it as a game of anticipation rather than direction of Council's needs or desires.
At the same time he has a sense of humor about his role as counsellor. Asked recently how he felt about the proposed smoking ban on the Council hearing room, Duncan, a heavy smoker, replied, "I was teasing Parris (Glendening is one of the makers of the bill) about that. I told him I was going to have six pages of amendements to that bill. Pull the old Annapolis trick where you amend it to death. Amend it to the point where he (Glendening) wouldn't even vote for it, see," he laughs.
Duncan says he is an "issue person," which is one reason he feels he has survived in his position. "Development, growth, management, those are soem things that I have been deeply involved in ever since I came here.
"I take my cues from the Concil, but at the same time I've got the oppotunity to get in with other people on issues. There is a great deal of variety here, and I think it's always a test for your mentality.
"But you know," he adds, laughing a how his interests have changed to reflect his job, "four or five years ago, if someone had told me that I was going to suddenly get very much interested in solid waste, trash, I would have said, you've got to be out of your mind."