Norman Christeller, Dickran Hovsepian, Joseph S. Wholey and James P. Gleason are local government good guys.
these are the types who spend a vacation in the Poconos writing a rent control bill and read much of the night on Wednesday to prepare for a hearing on Friday because all of Thursday will be taken up by a work session.
All of these men in recent weeks have decided to call it quits.
All of them are leaving public office, doen in to varying degrees by the demands of the exhaustively open form of local government they so staunchly advocate and by the many ways in which they feel the U.S. and state governments have frustrated them in their attempts to get the job done.
Christeller and HOvsepian are members of the Montgomery County Council. Gleason is the county executive there. Wholey is a member of the county board in Arlington and chairman of the Metro board as well.
Presenting a wide variety in interests, personalities, and character traits, together they are representative of a tradition rooted as much in public service, it seems, as in personal ambition.
All four came to their present offices the same year, 1970, and their history of community involvement before holding elective office sound strikingly familiar.
"I grew up in civic involvement," Hovsepian said recently, and the same could be said for the others, the same long list of causes, church organization, PTA's, and other volunteer efforts that have been the traditional incubators of "good government" practitioners.
Now, however, it is Hovsepian who also says, that he feels two four year terms in office "are about enough. I don't think one is quite as elastic after that. You don't delve as constructively or as enthusiastically into the problems as you once did. You develop a kind of acceptance of things, a feeling that some things can't be changed.
"You get burned out to some degree," Christeller said. "I hardly ever saw my wife. I used to make a point of having breakfast and dinner with her, but then it turned out that breakfast was the only time some people could schedule meetings. It puts a strain on relationships," said the man who averaged about three hours of sleep while working on the scholl budget last spring.
But time, it seems, is as relative for elected officials as it is physicists. It is with great pride that Hovespian talks of the "120 hours we spent on the Landlord-Tenant Relations Act." Night after night of work sessions, "but it was a bill that stood up. "It's a landmark bill. You can point to that and be proud."
In high school, these men and those like them might have been the class grinds, the kind who got straight A's were captain of the debate team, worked two paper routes and won the science fair to boot.
Throughout the long years of long hours and endless debate, they have adopted the precise, emotionless argot of the professional pragmatist and problem-solver.
Evan a difficult, emotion-laden issue like the decision to leave public office can sometimes be reduced to such a relentlessly precise description.
Speaking of the time devoted to the question of forsaking his political career, Wholey said "During the last three years I came to the conclusion that I should reorient my allocations of time."
For Hovsepian, like Gleason and Christeller, the time spent meeting the increasingly complex demands of Montgomery County was given willingly until the demands of the U.S. government began increasingly to impinge on their decisions.
"The sense of frustration comes in when you think you have settled an issue after a lot of time has been spent on it and then it turns out you haven't," Hovsepian said, referring to the Environmental Protection Agency's decision last year to block the construction of the Dickerson sewage treatment plant in the northern part of the county after previously approving it.
"Everything's just gotten more complex," Hovsepian said. "Now there are controls of all kinds. After awhile, it begins to get to you.
It got to Jim Gleason. "Too many regulations just stifle creativity," he said in a recent interview. "There should be a way that we can interrelate a person's problems instead of following specific federal programs that just don't quite fit. There's no way to do a total approach to the problem. Instead, you end up filling out 10,000 forms."
The increasingly regional nature of government in the Washington area also takes time and adds frustration, Gleason said. "When everybody is responsible for everything, it's axiomatic that nobody is responsible for anything," Gleason said.
Time and again, he said, regional situations arise where "everyone gets involved, a solution finally gets cleared and by the time that happens, there's an election. All of a sudden you've got (Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman) Jack Herrity and he has different ideas and you start all over again."
To most of these officials, all that "fine grain work," as Hovsepian called it, all those public hearings and grueling work sessions are indispensable, the cornerstone of the good government concept.
Attending a typical public hearing in a place like Montgomery or Arlington countries is something like participating in the Olympic decathlon - while expertise and skill in attaining the stated goal is of course, necessary, the real essential often is endurance.
Nearly everyone who attends a public hearing has something to say. Something to say fervently, something to say sincerely, and something to say at great length. Sometimes public hearings are exciting, emotional, dramatic events that have the boad members riveted in their seats, the audience struck silent with awe and the reporters scribbling madly in their notebooks.
More frequently, however, they are arduous, painstaking affairs, where the most fascinating item on the agenda might be the future of a curb gutter and sidewalk on the last block of a rarely traveled street.
Whatever the issue, large or small, public hearings take up the greater part of the local officials' time, lasting long into the night and early hours of the morning. Despite the drain, the lack of time for the pursuit of pleasures other than site plan amnedments, the public hearings seem to be the time expenditure Christeller, Hovsepian and Wholey would least like to curtail.
For instance, when Joe Wholey came to the county board in 1970, one of the first items on the agenda was the abolition of Wednesday afternoon board meetings in favor of weekend and evening meetings that would give the majority of citizens a chance to participate. "We took as many steps as we could to stimulate citizen involvement because we feel it's a good thing in itself," Wholey said, sounding the credo of the good government philosophy.
"I feel that I've been able to have the community set goals for itself and accomplish them," Wholey said. "I feel very positive about that experience."
"Of course, it's very time consuming," says Norman Christeller, "but that's simply the price we have to pay. I came out of a reform movement in the (local) Democratic party where we wrested control from the old line organization where power had been in the hands of the few. The whole thrust of our group was participation by citizens in a grass roots democrarcy."
Nevertheless, Christeller says, the public hearing process developed in some ways that he had not envisioned when he took office.
"One area that is troublesome," he said, "is that the citizen participation we get is not aalwas representative. Very often we get the people who take the extreme positions. On a land use issue, it would be the developers and land owners on one end and the no-growth people who want use to slam the door on Montgomery County and pull up the gangplank on the other."
What sometimes emerges, Christeller said, is "confrontation politics, not participation politics. There could be long range effects from this. I could see a situation where what we could end up with is groups electing whoever is shouting the loudest and public officials who are responsible to extreme groups. What we've got to do," he said, "is remind the 98 percent of the people who aren't involved to keep their eyes and ears open."
hose who are about to leave see different solutions to the problem of too much work but, all echo Christeller's complaint that the rush to prepare for the next day's avalance of details makes it "practically impossible to think ahead. The concentration of effort is intense. You never have a chance to sit back and think about long term problems."
Gleason feels he has the answer to such oft-repeated vexations. "I just don't think the County Council should have so many hearings," Gleason said. "If they left more of these matters up to the executive and his staff, they would find themselves with a lot more time."
Dickran Hovsepian, approaches the problem from a different perspective. "There's no question that the amount of time spent on some things can be cut down," Hovsepian said. "It shouldn't take the staff two hours to brief us on something.If the staff briefing were limited to 20 minutes or a half a hour, it would help a lot."
To Joseph Wholey, it is in the nature of local government that things take time and that some elected officials inevitably are going to spend more of it than others. "I don't know that it's necessary that we stay on," he said. "Maybe it's a good thing that the same people not be doing this job for a long time. I don't find any lack of people to take our places."