Montgomery County's all-Democratic County Council, which took a unity pledge after last year's acrimonious primary fight, has ruptured again, over a plan to eliminate the job of staff director and reorganize the rest of the council's staff.
The four members who campaigned as the Merit Team and had pledged to uphold the integrity of the civil service system, are being accused by the other three of trying to replace the council's professional staff with a "spoils system."
The debate also includes accusations by the three members who ran as United Democrats that the other four are making fundamental decisions in secret "executive sessions," skirting the state's open meetings law.
The bickering, reminiscent of the preelection feuding, spilled into the open at yesterday's council session in a heated exchange between the United Democrats, Neal Potter, Rose Crenca and Scott Fosler, who opposed the reorganization plan and the Merit Team--President David L. Scull, Vice President Esther P. Gelman, Michael Gudis and William E. Hanna Jr.--who voted for it during a closed-door session last week.
Under the plan, proposed by Scull, the merit system position of council staff director would be eliminated, and other staffers would work directly for the council members. The long-time director, Robert McDonnell, is planning to retire soon, and would serve as a consultant, according to the plan. The position of council staff attorney, also a merit system job, also would be eliminated, to be replaced by contracts with area law schools such as Georgetown University's Anne Blaine Harrison Institute For Public Law.
Fosler said that by cutting the director's job, Scull was taking on that role himself.
"The staff director provides a layer of political isolation from the rest of the professional staff, who now don't have to work for a specific council member," Fosler said. "The whole philosophy of the council staff has been that the professional staff works for the council as a whole."
Fosler said the Scull plan has created "a tremendous amount of confusion and uncertainty" among the council's 40 employes, who are unsure whether they would keep their jobs under the reorganization.
Potter added that in the executive session, "four council members appeared to have made up their minds, which made me wonder whether there was another meeting to which three of us were not privy."
"We are implementing a spoils system," said Crenca, later adding that "those in power take every opportunity to award jobs to those of their choice instead of having a merit system."
Scull and his allies dismissed the accusations.
"It seems to me there's just a great deal of table-pounding," said Gelman. "It's just unfortunate. I think everybody's weary of it."
The plan would save money, Scull said, and would further his goal of emphasizing budget-analysis functions for the council staff while beefing up the council's committee system. The plan was patterned in part after the District of Columbia Council, where staff members work directly with council members, and where the council often relies on Georgetown or legal interns.
Scull said the plan was studied in executive sessions because specific personnel were being discussed. "The Sunshine Law couldn't be clearer," he said. "It's the way the council has handled personnel matters since I've been here."