The unpredictable winds of cable television politics in Montgomery County shifted again this week when an on-again, off-again feud between top county officials over the lucrative cable franchise reignited.
All the evidence was stacked on a table Tuesday during a County Council meeting.
Copies of the so-called "blue sheet," an official report on council business that is printed on blue paper, contained council Chairman David L. Scull's Aug. 30 announcement that he and other members were finally "close to a compromise" with County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist over control of the county's future cable television stations.
Stacked on the same table, however, were the day's agendas, which included an item that effectively killed any chance for an immediate compromise.
The "blue sheets," of course, had been printed days before this week's meeting. In the interim, Gilchrist had told the Scull-led council majority that he would not accept two remaining proposals governing the membership of two cable television advisory committees.
Scull, saying he was "stunned and deeply disappointed" by Gilchrist's position, called a press conference this week to announce his intention to establish the council's own advisory committee for cable television. The committee will advise the council on how best to use one "flagship" and several other public cable channels, Scull said.
Scull and Gilchrist disagreed over whether citizen advisers could hold political office.
"The new committee is a way to break the logjam," Scull said on Tuesday, shortly before council member Rose Crenca, a Gilchrist ally, withdrew the executive's proposed advisory committee regulations from council consideration because of a lack of votes for passage.
During Tuesday's meeting, council member Scott Fosler bitterly criticized Scull for not consulting with the minority over his plans to set up the council's own committee.
"This is a mockery of the whole process of government," said Fosler, slapping his palm on the council's table. Scull's private consultation with other members over the sponsorship of a cable advisory panel was "a clear violation of the spirit of the sunshine law," a Maryland statute governing meetings of elected officials, Fosler said.
Scull denied any violation occurred.
Gilchrist, who Tuesday sent a concilliatory--and albeit futile--letter to Scull calling for further negotiations, said he was uncertain what role the two advisory committees he named would have over the next few months.
"It's the silly season over there," Gilchrist said, referring to his adversaries in the Council Office Building.
Tribune-United Cable of Montgomery County, which won the 15-year television franchise, plans to bring cable to some Rockville homes as early next year, a spokesman for the firm said.
"That fact," Gilchrist said, "argues even more intensely, more urgently, for these two committees to start advising us."