The Montgomery County Council yesterday elected Neal Potter as its president for the third time in nine years after council member David Scull withdrew his name from consideration.

Potter, 66, a no-nonsense administrator who used to fine colleagues 10 cents a minute for being late during his previous term as council president, will guide the council through the political perils of an election year. A member of the council since 1970 and the current vice president, he was elected by a 6-to-0 vote.

The vote, however, did not necessarily mean the all-Democratic council was unified. After Potter's nomination, council member Michael Gudis nominated Scull. Council member Esther Gelman seconded the nomination, saying she thought Scull would "bring a new vitality" to the council.

But Scull, acknowledging that he was grateful for Gelman's and Gudis' support, withdrew "because of Potter's years of experience." He said later that he thought that "under the circumstances this would be simplest for everybody."

"We're getting so stodgy," Gelman said, adding that Scull would have made a "serious but light and energetic president."

The job, in fact, would have been a natural one for Scull, whose mother Elizabeth and father David Sr. both served as council president.

Scull, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for county executive next year, was appointed to the council last June to succeed his mother after her death. A few weeks later, he tried unsuccessfully for the council vice presidency.

There were reports that Scull and Potter had agreed that Scull would become president but that Potter had been persuaded by Scull's political enemies to change his mind.

Potter himself dismissed the rumors as untrue. "What I said was that I would not necessarily seek the council presidency" when the election came around, Potter said, adding that he never sought to win the election this time.

"I was prepared to abstain from the vote," Potter said. "I think I just happened to be the man everybody knew, and the majority of the council thinks it's going to be a tough year and the old shoe is a little easier to wear."

Scull later rejected a nomination by council member Rose Crenca to become vice president, saying he was not a candidate for that office and that Gudis had earned the job. Gudis then won the vice presidency by acclamation.

The election of council officers takes place each year on the first Tuesday of December. Serving as council president, along with the responsibility of being the council's chief spokesman and administrator, carries a raise of $2,500 a year.

Potter served as vice president to the council in 1971-72, 1977-78 and 1980-81, and was president twice before, in 1972-73 and 1978-79. An Arlington native who holds a graduate degree in economics, he has authored articles on natural resources and has taken an active role in tightening the county's budget process.

Gudis is a Brooklyn native and first-term council member who chairs the County Council's Revenue and Economic Matters Committee.