Rockville City Council member Viola D. Hovsepian was sworn in as the city's new mayor at Monday's council meeting, and moments later was in the crossfire of a debate between a council member and her husband, former Rockville mayor Dickran Hovsepian.
Hovsepian, 61, Rockville's first woman mayor, was chosen three weeks ago by a majority of the four-member council to replace John R. Freeland, who resigned last Sunday.
In a brief speech to more than 100 city residents, she asked council members to put differences aside and focus on upcoming issues.
But after Viola Hovsepian and the new council member, former city planning commissioner Peter R. Hartogensis, were sworn in, council member Stephen N. Abrams commented on her appointment, saying he felt she lacks experience for the job.
At one point, Abrams quoted Hovsepian as saying she never discusses matters that arise in closed council sessions with her husband Dickran, who also served on the Montgomery County Council.
"You may have thought that we would have found that comment reassuring," Abrams said.
"I found it frightening. . . . I hope most strongly that you do confide in him and seek the benefit of his counsel and experience."
Minutes later Dickran Hovsepian, speaking from the audience, blasted Abrams for his remarks.
"Tonight we have a councilman that is asking the mayor to break the law," said Hovsepian, referring to a provision in the city's ethics law barring officials from discussing publicly any closed-session matters.
"I have never discussed in my political career any confidential items with my wife," Hovsepian said, his voice rising. "My wife has never discussed any confidential items with me, nor sought my advice on those items."
Hovsepian has said she plans to take a hard look at the direction development has taken in the past decade. She also wants to encourage better understanding between developers and affected residents.
Freeland, who for four months was at the center of a controversy after he accepted a job with a city developer, announced last month that he was resigning. He said a promotion from his employer, Eisinger-Kilbane & Associates, was placing demands on him, and that he wants to spend time with his wife, who is ill.
First elected to the council in 1982, Viola Hovsepian served as a board member in the 1950s in the now-defunct Citizens for Good Government. She is a longtime member of the Twinbook Citizens Association and is a founder of the Alliance of Rockville Citizens.