The Montgomery County Council made final changes Tuesday on a bill that will move some of the functions of the county's Office of Landlord-Tenant Affairs (OLTA) to the domain of the county Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The bill, as originally proposed by County Executive James P. Gleason, would have transferred the entire OLTA office, which employs approximately 20 persons, to the DEP, which has almost 300 employees. The new bill would transfer to DEP only OLTA's inspection scheduling functions and licensing functions.
The Council also changed the date that the bill would go into effect. If passed at next week's legislative session, the bill would not be effective immediately, as Gleason had wanted, but would be effective in July of next year.
"I pointed out that all the (rental facility) licenses are up for renewal Jan. 1," said Council member Norman Christeller, who suggested the change. "If you transfer all that right when they (OLTA) are at the peak of their work, you could have a real problem."
Council President John L. Menke said changes in the rent control law, due to expire at the end of this year, could complicate any office switch taking place at the same time. "Having this effective at the same time could create real problems," Menke said.
OLTA employees as well as tenants and landlords had claimed that the proposed bill was a move to get rid of OLTA head Tom Hamilton. Christeller said that Council members and Gleason thought a modified change would be better. "There was a real psychological problem," Christeller said of the first version of the bill. "The tenants and the landlords said you're taking something away from us. We decided from a community perspective, it was not a good idea."
The point of both versions of the bill was to attempt to stop the frequently reported bickering between Hamilton and DEP head Frances Abrams.
"I'm more relieved than pleased." Abrams said after the work session. "There will still be problems because of the separate agencies, but I think once the bill is adopted, we'll be on firmer ground. It won't be a matter of arguing over who should have responsibility for what."
Council member Jane Ann Moore, the only Council member to oppose the change in the effective date of the bill, said she was opposed to the bill. "I think we're forgetting the major concerns of the people who spoke at the public hearing," she said. "They want to see a strong office; they want to see that this function is not subsumed into a very large office in which it is one of many concerns."
Abrams said the move of OLTA positions to DEP would probably entail the move of four people from OLTA to DEP. However, the licensing functions that OLTA now controls are not clearly doled out to particular people, she said.
"Some people (at OLTA) have been doing more than licensing," Abrams said. "An individual can have more than one function. So it could be complicated."
After much earlier protesting of the original bill to move all of OLTA to DEP, Hamilton said he did not want to comment on whether he liked the new version of the bill.
"Whichever way (the bill) goes. I don't want people to think this has anything to do with my candidacy for the county Council," Hamilton said, adding that he feared that people would think he was only running because he is upset with the Council, which he denied. "No matter what happens, I will be running for county Council as a Democrat," Hamilton said.
Hamilton said that there was one thing that bothered him about the shift of the licensing function from OLTA to DEP. "They (DEP) will try to abscond with my people. They'll ask for four or five when all theyneed is one."