Internal political bickering on the Montgomery County Council, a holdover from last fall's bitter Democratic primary election, has sidetracked efforts by council President David L. Scull to reorganize the council into a big-city style legislature with a strong committee system.
The feuding, along the same factional lines that divided the seven-member all-Democratic council during the primary, yesterday erupted into open warfare that included name-calling, accusations of illegality, and a threat by one member to seek a court injunction to block Scull's reorganization plan.
At the center of the debate is Scull's long-range plan to "reorient" the council's work plan by giving each council member additional staff, contracting out for legal research, and strengthening the now rather weak committee system.
The changes are aimed at making Montgomery's legislature, once a small-town council that spent only a few hours on county business, more similar to other professional bodies, such as the D.C. City Council and the Maryland legislature in Annapolis. Most work for those groups is done in strong committees.
Yesterday's verbal melee began when Scull revealed his committee assignments for the seven council members. Council member Scott Fosler objected that he had been removed from a committee overseeing management that he had previously chaired. Under Scull's plan, Scull would chair that committee.
Fosler then revealed a legal opinion from the county attorney that said the council may have acted illegally last week when it approved parts of Scull's reorganization plan in a closed-door executive session. That reorganization plan, approved by a 4-to-3 vote with Scull's majority prevailing, would eliminate the jobs of council staff director and council attorney, while beefing up the council's committees with budget analysts and support staff.
Council member Rose Crenca, a Fosler ally during the campaign, complained that two committees were scheduled to meet on the same days, meaning she could only attend one or the other.
"I think a dictatorship is the most efficient form of government, but I do not accept it," Crenca said. "If this ridiculous four-vote majority is true," Crenca charged further, "we've cut off all discussion for the next four years." Scull replied: "I don't think that comment should be dignified with a reply."
Crenca responded: "If we get an injunction, you may have to . . . . I was told I can get an injunction. If you want that on page one of every paper, so be it."
Fosler and Crenca moved that the new committee assignments be put up for discussion later in the day, but they were defeated by a 4-to-3 vote, with council member Neal Potter joining the minority. Council members William E. Hanna Jr., Esther P. Gelman and Michael Gudis voted with Scull.