Earlier this week, when Prince George's County officials were in the middle of what has become an annual fight over a tax on commercial use of energy, state Sen. Arthur Dorman was asked what he thought of the local revenue measure that county officials want and state representatives such as Dorman don't.
"I don't know. I haven't talked to [county officials]," Dorman said.
In fact, that was not strictly true. Dorman had at least four briefings with County Executive Parris Glendening, council members and aides on the subject of what county officials wanted from the legislature. What Dorman really meant is that those leaders had not told him what he wanted to hear. They had not said they would not advance any more tax plans or other initiatives, without legislators' full cooperation.
"Dinners don't mean anything," Dorman said later. "We've got to sit down and come to agreement."
That, in a nutshell, is the story of the Prince George's political organization these days. The relationships between legislators and county officials -- exposed to full view in a delegation meeting today -- have turned increasingly raw in recent years, aggravated by personality clashes, political slights, institutional rivalry and fear of change.
Some state representatives, used to the access and discipline of a tight political organization, have accused Glendening of cutting them out of crucial decisions. Glendening, a member of the Democratic faction that nurtured much of the current legislature, but was never fully accepted by it, responds that county citizens are rejecting the old organization approach to Democratic politics and that he is part of the new guard.
However, some state representatives suggest that with the politically unpopular energy tax, Glendening was playing the old-time pol, attempting to smoke out his supporters in case he wants to back a slate of representatives in the 1986 elections. Glendening denies that motivation.
Though most of the county's 31 legislators individually say they believe county services should be improved, many of them have thwarted Glendening's efforts to upgrade services by blocking the proposals he has advanced.
The conflict came to a head today as the county's delegates voted whether to consider the tax plan Glendening brought to Annapolis a week ago.
Some delegates said privately that the senators had threatened to kill all the county's capital projects if Glendening refused to retreat from the measure, which the senators deny. When it was all over this morning, the delegation refused to allow Glendening even the votes to introduce the measure for purposes of debate.
Their vote was followed by an unusually pungent and personal exchange between Glendening and one of his legislative critics, who accused him of introducing the tax plan just to focus the blame on the legislature for any tough budgetary decisions he might have to make. And Glendening responded by calling the legislature's refusal to provide help an "affront" to the county.
The intramural fight has left many officials unnerved and embarrassed.
"In my opinion, Prince George's County is paying a big price for political disorganization both in Upper Marlboro and Annapolis," said Del. imothy Maloney, who harangued Glendening in his appearance before the delegation today. "I think we've all got to lower the volume, put our heads together. Theoretically, Prince George's County ought to have the second highest clout in the state but we don't because we don't have an executive behind us who is working in tandem."
Said Glendening, "We are our own worst enemy . . . I think it's crazy that we are spending less on education, on libraries, than every other jurisidiction."
Some officials note that the current conflict has been echoed by each of the previous executives and delegations since the inception of home rule in 1970, when the county's senators, the dominant political force for half a century, were forced to accept the loss of some of their powers to a newly created county executive and council.
Glendening, moreover, has managed to alienate each of the senators in some way. He endorsed Dorman's opponent in the 1982 election, and then appointed the unsuccessful candidate to a county board. He criticized the senators' selection of Decatur Trotter to run for state senator as "an arrogance of power," arguing that the community's choice was another candidate. Most importantly, he refuses to run appointments to county boards and commissions past the state senators for their review.
But letting state senators, who already make a number of appointments including judges, make all the decisions has not given groups, like blacks and women, the representation their growing numbers deserve, Glendening says.
Glendening also angered many of the delegates and several county council members by appearing to take credit, in their view, for important projects and achievements by the county. He aggravates that approach, they said, by an aloof and sometimes commanding manner that seems to take them for granted. Glendening acknowledges that his personality sometimes puts people off, but says he tries to overcome it by being accessible and fair. And, he says, the courses he has chosen are "good public policy and good for the county."