No one carried a musket to the meeting in Montgomery Village last week but the 30 residents who gathered in the modern split-level community center were full of old-fashioned revolutionary fervor.
"I'm tired of waiting for a little democracy to come to Montgomery Village," said Arnold Piscopo, as he discussed the problem of self-government with his neighbors.
The Montgomery Village community leaders had ventured from their homes in northern Montgomery County's largest planned community into the cold November night to talk about assessment without representation.
Montgomery Village developer Clarence Kettler is trying to take control of his 15-year-old utopia by seizing a soon-to-be vacant seat on the nine-member village board of directors. The seat, now neutral, would give the Kettler Brothers firm a majority over residents on the board.
The board functions as a town government for the vast suburban community Kettler carved out of Gaithersburg farmlands a decade ago. Now nearly complete, the village contains 20,000 people who live in townhouses, detached houses and condominiums ranging in value from $50,000 to $125,000.
With a budget of $1.4 million and $400,000 worth of assets, the board maintains common property such as playgrounds, tennis courts and streets, runs a recreation program and keeps financial records for Montgomery Village communties.
The board also has the power to levy assessments on homeowners to pay for these and other local services.
"King George had to learn a lesson in self-government," sighed resident Gene Counihan, now a board president and leader of the mounting insurrection. "I'm surprised Clarence has to relearn that lesson."
But, argues Kettler vice president William Hurley, developers of planned communties have the right to control decisions until residents outnumber houses remaining to be sold. Kettler could control all the board seats, he claimed, but has graciously permitted residents equal power -- until now.
"We have to finish the project.With the unknowns in the marketplace and the commitment we have to work to be done, we have to have control of the board if we need it," said Hurley, who has been with Montgomery Village since its infancy.
But Counihan and several other community leaders fear a conflict of interest is afoot. They told other residents at the meeting that with a majority on the board, Kettler could vote to use Montgomery Village Foundation assets as collateral for other construction loans.
"The foundation is being held hostage. We find this to be intolerable," said the portly, bearded Counihan, who is a Gaithersburg public school teacher.
"That's dirty and unfair," protested Hurley in an interview. He charged Counihan with seeking political gain from the conflict. "I'm terribly distressed that it's become a metropolitan issue just to get attention for those seeking attention.
In 1966 when the board was formed as a legal body, there were no Montgomery Village residents and all original board members were appointed by Kettler representatives. As the village filled, Kettler relinquished more seats until the number of residents equaled the number of Kettler members. A swing seat was occupied by a neutral foundation staff member hired by the board.
Because the staff member has to carry out policies voted by the board, the board decided recently that a staff member should not vote. Residents assumed Kettler would turn the decisive seat over to them. Kettler, however, announced in September that the firm would appoint someone to the seat.
Counihan called last week's meetings to discuss the situation with other community leaders. An open meeting for all residents is scheduled for the next Tuesday. Although Kettler has declined an invitation to attend, Hurley said since the date coincides with the next meeting, Kettler representatives will be there.
Some residents attending last week's meeting were reluctant to chastise Kettler, who they say has been a good developer until now. Some still in their business suits, others in jeans and flannel shirts, they argued over Kettler's motives and what -- if any -- action they should take.
One man said he worried that, because all builders are facing tough time, "The financial situation might force Kettler to do things he otherwise might not do."
Kettler's a shrewd businessman, but he's no dishonest," mused another.
Counihan told the group he merely wanted to get their views, not formulate solutions, but solutions tumbled forth anyway during the course of the evening.
Some advocated litigation while others wanted to picket Montgomery Village's sales office. Donald Sperling said he would be content if the residents could at least control the development's newspaper, The Montgomery Village Voice.
"Sure. Then we'd read about events after the fact," charged another neighbor.
When asked whether a tea party such as Boston's would be in order, Counihan laughed. "Well, there's always Lake Whetstone" (the planned community's placid lake).
"Most communities have trouble keeping their developer interested," he said wryly. "We can't get rid of ours."