Last spring, Fairfax County Board Chairman John F. Herrity proposed a regional transportation agency for Northern Virginia that would encompass the region's booming outer counties. His colleagues on the board thought it was a fine idea.

However, when politicians and bureaucrats from the area met here today to discuss the idea, there were partisan skirmishes, complaints, accusations, suspicions and name-calling.

When the dust settled, Herrity's plan had survived, but barely.

The problem seemed not so much Herrity's idea -- an agency that would coordinate the area's transit efforts and carry more weight in the state legislature -- but the forum at which the Fairfax Republican presented it. Lawmakers who walked into the Herrity meeting today were flabbergasted to find television cameras, batteries of reporters, a member of Congress, a candidate for statewide office and more than 50 other local officials.

"I don't want to participate in a dog-and-pony show orchestrated in the north," Prince William County Board Chairman G. Richard Pfitzner, a Democrat, said before the meeting began.

Later, he laid into Herrity publicly. "I don't want to say it's a circus-type atmosphere," Pfitzner said, "but I had no idea it was going to be a media event."

"Well, Rick," Herrity replied, "I had no idea this many people were going to show up, either."

"Well, we should have known," Pfitzner said.

Pfitzner was joined in his criticism by Loudoun County Board Chairman Frank Raflo, also a Democrat. "Everyone's got to look out for their own thing, and there ain't nothing in here that's going to help me out," Raflo said.

He stressed that the discussions of contract bus service, ride-sharing programs, commuter rail service and car-pool lane extensions were irrelevant in the absence of increased state funding for transportation. "The problem is," Raflo added, "the pie isn't big enough. Let us not sit and drink tea while the house is on fire."

"It's country people seeing the city people come down here and telling them what to do," said Robert L. Calhoun, a Republican member of the Alexandria City Council.

When Herrity proposed that staff aides from Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun, Fauquier and Stafford counties, as well as the cities in the area convene to discuss forming the new agency, there was virtually no response. Herrity took this as an endorsement, declared that the staff members would meet, and later pronounced the meeting a success.

"It accomplished exactly what I wanted it to accomplish," he said. "This was not a miracle meeting. This was a baby step . . . to set up a mechanism to discuss the transportation problems of our outer urban juridictions."

"They had to start somewhere," said Stafford Supervisor Alvin Y. Bandy, a Republican. "Maybe it was a media event. I don't think it hurt anything but maybe some people's feelings."

Asked about the criticisms, Herrity said, "I know there was a certain amount of flak. I can take it. I'm a big boy."

Fairfax officials at the meeting attributed the discord to some politicians' unease with the media, as well as partisanship. Rep. Stan Parris, state Sen. John H. Chichester, a candidate for lieutenant governor, state Del. Thomas M. Moncure Jr. and Herrity -- all Republicans -- shared the limelight at the head table.

Herrity said he preferred that the agency be specifically chartered by the legislature and thereby be eligible for state funding, but several outer county officials, wary of being outvoted, said they would oppose such an organization.

Fairfax officials are increasingly concerned with the heavy volume of traffic from the outlying areas that clogs Fairfax's roads.