About 2,000 persons protested and paraded for the Prince George's County Council last night in a first, mostly negative display of public reaction to the cost-slashing budget proposed by County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan.
It was the first of three public hearings the council will hold on Hogan's $458 million budget, and it was dominated by the groups Hogan has offended.
Among them were more than 600 placard-carrying unionized county employes in hard hats, nurses who paraded across the stage of the Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt before the hearing began and several dozen deaf persons in one corner with their own sign-language interpreter. County teachers handed out leaflets at the door.
Most of the 40 speakers addressed their remarks to Hogan, but he wasn't there.
Although Prince George's executives traditionally have begun the public budget hearings with their own messages to the council, Hogan decided, in the words of aide Barbara Coleman, "to not take up time and give the citizens a chance to speak."
Hogan has maintained that his tight budget was mandated by the voters' approval of TRIM, the county charter amendment limiting county tax revenues.
It was the largest turnout at a budget hearing, council members said, since 1969, when the council was considering a 6-cent tax rate increase.
'It's sort of mildly overwhelming," said council member Ann Lombardi. "But it's very carefully orchestrated to the point of being ridculious."
Hogan's designated represenative at the hearing, budget director Bob Duncan had a one word reaction to the Turnout: "Predictable."
The hearing began after council chairman William B. Amonett attempted to persuade hundreds of the union members protesting raises of only 3 percent to clear the clogged aisles. Several score of the hard-hat-clad county workers responded by moving to a stage immediately behind and above the council members. They remained throughout the meeting dangling their placards inches behind the heads of he council members.
The first four speakers at the hearing were Board of Education members who have been feuding with Hogan over $13 million in cuts he has proposed for the school board's $281 million budget.
Board Chairman Norman H. Sanders provided himself with the evening's most colorful introduction by striding to the podium with a compliment of Junior ROTC trainees in full-dress uniforms. Sanders went on to defend the school board's ROTC program, which Hogan has cut out of the county budget, as representing "all the moral codes and ethics that this nation was founded on."
As the hearing continued, each speaker pleaded with the council to restore a program or service that Hogan has cut.
Standing at the back of the auditorium, quietly watching, was William J. Goodman, the author of TRIM, which was heavily attacked by the speakers. "If all the special interests were to leave this hearing," said Goodman, "there wouldn't be 50 people left here. I hope the county council will approve Hogan's budget, although it only reduces spending in a few established programs.
"This is just the teachers and the education interests," said Goodman, looking out of the crowd. "Education is a conspiracy in this county that has always existed and it ought to be stopped."
The two remaining public hearings on the budget are scheduled for May 1 and 7 at the council's hearing room in Upper Marlboro.
"Mybe we should hold the next one in the Capital Centre," said council member Gerard T. McDonough.