The Montgomery County Council, after a raucous six-hour debate, yesterday approved a controversial reorganization plan that eliminates the jobs of council attorney and council director and strengthens support staff for council members.
The reorganization is part of Council President David L. Scull's "New Directions" plan that includes a "recodification," or updating, of the county's often archaic code, and an increased emphasis on budget analysis.
The plan would give Scull, as council president, more direct control over the council's professional staff.
Each part of the plan was voted on separately, with most of the controversial parts approved 4 to 3. Scull was assured all along of success, since he has three allies on the council who campaigned together as the "Merit Team" in last year's Democratic primary and now form a 4-to-3 council majority.
The reorganization was opposed by Scull's political foes, who charged that the "Merit Team" members, fresh from their election victory, were trying to politicize the council's professional staff.
Opponents referred to the plan alternately as "smorgasbord," and "halfway between Abbott and Costello."
A major part of the plan is the strengthening of council committees. "The idea is to have seven little councils and one big one," Scull said.
At the same time, Scull--who has often said the council should adopt the committee system to be more like larger legislatures--reassured his opponents that he did not want the Montgomery Council committees to become "burial grounds" for bills, as he said they are in Annapolis and on Capitol Hill.
Scull estimated that eliminating the staff director's job would save about $92,400 each year. But council member Scott Fosler, an outspoken critic of Scull's, said the elimination would expose professional staff members to the political whims of the council president, and the council president traditionally changes every year. "The staff will have to adjust to a new style, a new personality," Fosler said.
The plan also eliminates the job of council staff attorney, a position currently filled by David Frankel, who has disagreed with Scull in several past legal opinions.
The staff lawyer's job would be taken over by a privately contracted legal group, such as the Georgetown University law center. The change would save about $60,000 each year, Scull estimated.
The new plan also would allow the council to hire seven part-time assistants to help council members with their workloads.