The Calverton residents were frustrated and angry. They had lived for four years next to a plant that handles almost 200 tons of sludge daily and were tired of the odors and of officials telling them that they were exaggerating.

So when they appeared before the Montgomery County Council on a March morning, they wanted more than to be heard. They wanted somebody's head, but it wasn't the usual outburst against elected officials. Instead, members of the Neighborhoods Organized to Support the Eradication of Stenches (NOSES) told the council they wanted Stewart McKenzie to be fired.

McKenzie serves as the council's legislative analyst for the environment and, as such, he has no power to make policy. His role is to advise and recommend, but the soft-spoken native Englishman, by his own admission, takes a more activist stance and sometimes -- as was the case with the citizens of Calverton -- that places him in the public eye and somewhat at risk.

McKenzie's presence was apparent in the council's recent work sessions on how and where to dispose of the county's trash. Every Thursday for four weeks as the council members grappled with the technical, economic and political complexities of garbage, they were armed with thick memorandums from McKenzie steering them through the intricacies of electrostatic precipitators, refuse-derived fuel and dioxin/furan emission levels.

Also in the working papers were some of McKenzie's recommendations on what would be best for the county and its environment. He prodded and poked at the recycling issue, saying the county could recycle 25 percent of its wastes instead of the 15 percent recommended by the executive.

He was biting in his criticism of the executive's changing proposal to enlarge the county's only landfill in Laytonsville, likening it to "the dance of the seven veils, {which} has become a little less modest with each appearance." In both those cases, said council member Bruce Adams, McKenzie made a difference in action taken by the council.

"I have influence to the extent I make reasonable arguments," said McKenzie, who is paid $49,500 as one of the 45 employes in the council's central staff that provides research and analysis for the council.

Since joining the county in 1982, McKenzie has gained a credibility with the council as well as most citizen groups as an adviser with impeccable technical experience who is straight with the facts.

"We scream and yell at times but I respect him a lot . . . . You can't do any better job than he does," said Peggy Erickson, of the Concerned Citizens and Scientists for Healthful Environment.

McKenzie, 44, trained and practiced as an architect in London before coming to the United States in 1972 to study landscape architecture and regional planning at the University of Pennsylvania. He designed a new town in Pennsylvania and a land use planning method for the coastal zone of Delaware, and wrote much of New Jersey's coastal zone management law.

It is an irony to McKenzie that he was trained to protect the environment from people but now much of his time is spent protecting people from the environment, both the natural and the manmade. McKenzie has been the council's liaison with Laytonsville residents who fought the Oaks Landfill, he has worked with the Springfield Garden Club of Montgomery County for county and state laws requiring disclosure of pesticide spraying and he has been involved with both Shady Grove and Dickerson citizens opposed to placement of a trash to energy incinerator.

"I deal with two things," McKenzie said. "I deal with real concerns and I deal with fears. One grades into the other and often the fear produces a specter that is larger than reality."

McKenzie actively works to reach out to community groups, ofen spending his evenings meeting with citizens.

The first thing McKenzie said he does for citizens is to get them information and involve them in the process.

McKenzie speaks warmly of his experiences with residents but laments what he calls his one disappointment: his obvious inability to connect with the Calverton residents. The March incident before the council was a result, McKenzie and council members said, of McKenzie's going out to the community.

He had thought that odors cited during one period were the result not of the Site 2 sludge composting plant but of nearby construction. McKenzie went out and collected soil samples and took them for inspection to complaining residents.

NOSE members, disputing McKenzie's theory that construction caused the smell, accused him of lying and demanded his dimissal. "Here he was trying to help," Adams said, "and they ask for him to be fired."

For his part, McKenzie said he understands the way the citizens felt. He likens the situation to when he became active in a citizens group complaining about the noise of airplanes flying over their D.C. neighborhood. "I know what it is like to feel powerless and I know what it is like to think government is lying," he said.

The council is scheduled to formally decide Tuesday where to place its mass burner: Shady Grove or Dickerson. A straw vote last month showed four members favoring Dickerson and two opting for Shady Grove.

Dickerson and Shady Grove residents are lobbying heavily. In the mound of information McKenzie presented to the council, noticeably absent was any recommendation on where to place the incinerator.

"I just couldn't," McKenzie said, explaining that this was a perfect example of his relationship with the council. He provided them with all the technical and financial information (Shady Grove comes out ahead) and a review of the political considerations (Dickerson has the edge).

But the choice, McKenzie emphasized, is "thankfully" the council's.