Take 200 civic leeaders, seven County Council members, one planning board chairman who resigned and 13 applicants for the job.
Give them three weeks. The outcome will be one person in the powerful seat, vacated by Royce Hanson, as chairman of the body responsible for the county's growth policies and zoning decisions, plus any number of unhappy citizens.
The job, civic activists say, is second in importance only to that of the county executive, and they believe the council is moving too hastily to fill it.
Not least among their concerns is that former council member Norman Christeller wants the job. Christeller's candidacy for the post, more than any other, has spurred protests in the form of letters and petitions asking the council to slow down the appointment process..
Several civic leaders said they believe Christeller will oppose citizen participation in planning decisions, and will remember his friends and enemies from his years on the County Council, from 1972 to 1978. Their fear is that he has support on the council, and perhaps the four votes necessary to win the appointment.
Christeller says that in 1978, when Hanson was running for county executive, council member Elizabeth Scull asked him whether he would be interested in applying for the planning board chairmanship if Hanson won.
Hanson lost the primary to Charles Gilchrist, however. Now, Christeller says, "he resigned at a time ripe for me to apply."
"A strong person, not laid back, not a person that anyone's going to control," said council member Esther Gelman, describing Christeller. "Many people will tell you that he has a lot of comtempt and disregard for the citizens," said Jenny Sue Dunner, a civic activist.
The council received many protest letters and petitions this month after it voted to accept applications for two weeks, instead of 30 days, as is usual in filling other county jobs.
The petitions asked the council to extend the application period beyond the two weeks, which ended Feb. 20, and also to hold a public discussion of the role of a planning board chairman and the relationship between the planning board and the County Council.
Hanson, in his 10 years as head of the five-member board, wielded considerable influence over planning decisions, and the citizens groups fear he may have set a precedent for a strong planning board. He was the innovator of planning techniques, zoning categories and land-use regulations that brought him national recognition but also aroused the ire of suburbanites.
The county's Agricultural Preservation Plan is one example of the kind of zoning concept that makes citizens nervous. It aims to preserve farming in the northern part of the county by allowing farmers to earn money from their land through the sale of development rights. The developer buys the density right from the farmer and uses it in down-county areas.
Christeller told the council last week, during his council role in the passage of the Moderately Priced Dwelling Unit law. The law requires that new tracts of 50 units or more offer a range of prices. Residents who oppose Christeller say they are concerned that he might act to increase low-cost housing in the parts of the county that already have it -- in Silver Spring and some parts of Rockville and Gaithersburg.
A list of 193 signatures that read like a Who's Who of Montgomery County civic leaders gave clout the council could not ignore to a letter requesting more time and public participation in the appointment decision.
"If people take the position that this is a political decision, they should not be surprised if there is political retaliation at election time," said Marilyn Piety of the Sligo Branview Community Association.
Gilchrist can veto the appointment of any applicant who receives fewer than five votes. Another factor is the health of Elizabeth Scull, who has been unable to attend recent council meeting. She must be present in order to vote.
The council scheduled a public forum for 7:30 tonight at the County Office Building, but did not change its timetable for filling the vacancy. The members will choose a new planning chairman in a council meeting about three weeks after the application deadline.
"We got the first step, we'll take it a step at a time," said Frank Blunda of the Olney Civic Association.
"What's the great rush on something that affects so many lives?" asked Dunner. "Because Hanson has been a very unique chairman in many ways, it is time to re-evaluate the chairmanship and the relationship between the planning board and the council. Some people feel the council gave many of its responsibilities to the planning board.
When one of the five members of the planning board resigns before the term expires, the replacement must come from the same party. Since Hanson was a Democrat, the council must name a Democrat to the position.
Christeller's name is not music to the ears of local activists who remember that when he left office in 1978, he wrote an article in The Washington Post about citizen participation in local government that many interpreted as critical of vocal constituents.
When Christeller was interviewed by the council, his first remarks were in defense of the article. He said his comments were misunderstood and that he was calling for more, rather than less, public participation.
"What I did say -- and the thing that bothers me -- is that the ones who come to public hearings are not always representative of the citizens," he said.
Council members Scott Fosler and Rose Crenca questioned Christeller repeatedly about his attitude toward citizen participation.
"In many cases, people feel so strongly (about an issue) they take a hard, unchanging position. People who think compromise is needed often don't come out and testify," Christeller replied.
"There are a lot of different interests out there and the situation is much more complex than it ever was. I'm concerned that the perception not given that people who come out have an ax to grind. The implication is here in the article." Fosler countered.
Christeller, 57, is a lawyer with Leva Hawes Symington Martin and Oppenheimer. Other applicants for the post are Bernard Bernstein, 65, former technical director with the Navy Department and currently a part-time teacher at Prince George's Community College; Christopher Carlson, 34, an employe of the Veterans Administration's Washington regional office; Thomas H. Countee, 41, executive director of the Park and Planning Commission; Frederick Gutheim, 72, a member of the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission and formerly a professor at George Washington University;
John Hansman, 40, associate director of Montgomery County's Office of Management and Budget; Arthur B. Hatton, 56, former staff member of the Park and Planning Commission and currently chief of interagency coordination in the District of Columbia's Office of Planning and Development; John P. Hewitt, 58, a real estate broker who was executive director of the Park and Planning Commission from 1971 until 1974;
John L. Menke, 40, a physicist who was a member of the County Council from 1974 until 1978; Gerald Mylroie, 36, a city planner with the Department of Commerce; Matthew R. Peterson, 60, a real estate broker; Joel Schor, 43, an employe of the Department of Agriculture, and William Sher, 52, a council member from 1970 until 1974 currently with the county's Office of Housing and Community Development.