Gobbledygook in the Montgomery County code, a 2,094-page document regulating nearly every public issue from air to zoning, may become a thing of the past under a controversial program that the County Council approved yesterday.
Depite objections from two members and a coalition of businesses that argued against comprehensive changes in the code, the council voted 5 to 0 to approve a $160,000 contract with the Georgetown University Law Center to begin rewriting the code in "plain English."
"Whole chapters of the code are outdated, reams of it are incomprehensible," said Council Chairman David L. Scull, the chief sponsor of the code revision.
Scull and other officials singled out the tax and welfare provisions of the county code as virtually unintelligible to laymen and said other regulations are outdated, such as one on the Dutch elm disease that ravaged trees earlier in the century.
The mandate of the council's new legal staff will be to recommend provisions of the code "which should be simplified, combined, revised or eliminated," according to the contract.
However, council member Scott Fosler, who abstained from voting on the contract, argued against sweeping changes in the code's language, which was first drafted in the late 1940s.
The code is reprinted every 10 years and now fills four volumes and several supplements.
The code revision "has not been well thought out," Fosler said. He and member Rose Crenca, who also abstained, also insisted that employes hired by the council should fall under the provisions of Montgomery's merit personnel system. The Georgetown University staff does not fall under the current contract, which does require them to comply with county ethics laws.
In July, a coalition of business groups, including the 350-member Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, urged the council to reject the proposal to revise the code's language.
"The code was written reasonably clearly," said chamber President Gerald F. Hunter. "We haven't seen an outcry, a need for a comprehensive revision."
Hunter, who urged the council to draft any new additions to the code in plain language, said revisions to the law could lead inadvertently to changes in other statutes.
The two-year contract with the GU law center also requires the four-lawyer team to draft legislation and do legal research for the council. The County Council has appropriated funds only for the first year of the contract. Georgetown University has allocated $92,000 for that year, officials said.
The law center attorneys and eight Georgetown University law students hired for the coming year will replace the board's legislative counsel, a one- lawyer office with a yearly budget of $95,000.