When the Prince George's County Council gathers to select its new chairman Tuesday, the majority of its nine members are expected to seal a five-month-old deal to elect William Amonett, several council members said in interviews this week.
"The five votes are already counted," said council member Frank Casula, who is credited by other members with making many of the pivotal arrangements for Amonett's selection and with last year's selection of the current chairman, Floyd Wilson.
That does not please Jo Ann Bell, the current vice chairman who served two terms as school board chairwoman before moving to the council in 1982. She said this week that she wanted to succeed Wilson and was patiently waiting for the council to meet to talk about the issue.
But no meeting has taken place and none is likely. And at last week's council session, Amonett and his ally Casula convinced the body to move up the election date by one week because Casula and two other council members are going to be out of town and would miss the Dec. 4 meeting, when the council traditionally chooses its chairman.
Yet Bell, in an interview Wednesday, pledged to continue her effort, saying "I have not been told by anybody that the votes were [already] cast."
"I would like to be this county's chief cheerleader," she said, but also conceded, "That's politics. I just thought we had a better working relationship."
Amonett, who has served two previous terms on the council, will only say that he is "one of the potential" candidates for the job, which adds $2,000 more to a council member's $30,003 annual salary.
Casula, the council's immediate past chairman, insists that he did not put the votes together for Amonett but thinks Amonett is the "popular" choice for the slot. "It's not that I don't care for [council member] Sue Mills or Jo Ann Bell," he said. "It's that Bill Amonett asked to be chairman before anyone else did."
But according to council members interviewed this week, a deal was brokered by Casula, who has been close to Amonett on the council, when a majority of the council members attended the National Association of Counties annual meeting in Seattle last July. According to that agreement, Hilda Pemberton will take over from Bell as vice chairman, a post that carries a $1,000 bonus. Pemberton, who has been ill, has expressed such an interest, her colleagues said.
"I don't know how it went down," said Wilson, who was on the trip to Seattle. "I wasn't included in that."
But other council members said that Casula approached Amonett about taking the position and then collected pledges for the five votes needed for a simple majority before the council members returned east.
Tuesday's discussion about shifting the election date exposed some of the bruised feelings that exist about the advance deal-making.
"I thought everyone had agreed on the process," Bell said, "Obviously I was mistaken."
At that meeting, both Bell and Sue V. Mills protested the plan to add the election to an already crowded agenda for Tuesday's meeting.
But Mills, who colleagues said also wanted a shot at the job, said she will probably go along with the preordained plan.
Wilson said that he later talked with both Amonett and Bell in an attempt to "massage a few egos and try to straighten it out so we don't have a bad scene on that [election] day."
Wilson said that he has chosen not to run for council chairman a second time because of the amount of extra work that goes along with the title, including community meetings every night and all day on the weekends.
Wilson recalled that his election to the chairmanship was also decided in advance of last December's formal election.
He said there was an "unwritten agreement" that Casula would back Wilson for the chairman's job in 1984 if he supported Casula in 1983, Wilson said.
Amonett said he did not ask to change the date of the election in order to have Casula present, but because with only six members voting, the election could have ended up a deadlock.
Amonett, who said that he "honest to goodness" does not know who else is interested in the chairmanship, asserted that full attendance at the chairman's election is vital because "it's extremely important that every council member have an opportunity to vote."