A bitterly divided Montgomery County Council rejected yesterday County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist's two latest appointments to the local ethics commission, including a woman who would have been the commission's first black member.
Council President Esther P. Gelman led the faction that rejected the appointments on a 3-to-3 vote, on the grounds that the two vacancies were not adequately advertised. Gelman accused Gilchrist of trying "over and over again" to make the appointment of Cynthia Clark Matthews, who is black, a "racial issue."
Gelman was joined by David L. Scull and Michael L. Gudis in rejecting the appointments of Matthews, a Democrat from Silver Spring who is the executive officer of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Joseph A. Kenary, a Republican lawyer from Chevy Chase.
Rose Crenca, Scott Fosler and Neal Potter voted for the appointments and in bitter exchanges with the others said Matthews and Kenary were qualified to serve on the ethics panel. The three also noted that Gilchrist was not required under the County Charter to advertise the vacancies.
Member William E. Hanna Jr. was absent.
The rejection of Matthews and Kenary marked only the fifth and sixth times that the council -- which has approved 460 other Gilchrist appointments -- has turned down someone named to a public board.
In recent weeks the nominations have led to public squabbles between Gilchrist and Gelman at news conferences and in printed statements.
Gelman repeatedly called on Gilchrist to advertise the two ethics commission vacancies, as he customarily did with other public agencies. The executive countered by saying he was under no legal obligation to do so and called on the council to consider Matthews and Kenary on their merits and approve them.
Yesterday, Gilchrist, who listened by intercom to the council's stormy debate, said he was "embarrassed that the council would have the gall" to reject Matthews and Kenary.
Gilchrist, who has stated publicly that he wanted a black or other minority member on the ethics panel, said he was "disgusted" by Gelman's assertion that he tried to make Matthews' appointment a racial issue.
"I had a conscious concern to appoint a minority, but I don't see that it alone makes any difference in this case," Gilchrist said. "She was superbly qualified and should have been confirmed."
Matthews, 43, said she was "very disappointed" by the council vote.
"I'm not aware of what the politics were, but apparently there was a lot it," she said. "I was looking forward to serving."