Key legislative initiatives by Montgomery County Executive Sidney Kramer to redevelop Silver Spring and to convert 744 career firefighters into county employes suffered back-to-back setbacks by the County Council Monday and yesterday.
Council President Rose Crenca announced yesterday that the council will delay its consideration of Kramer's plan to allow a larger scale of redevelopment than currently permitted for downtown Silver Spring. On Monday the council decided to delay action on a Kramer plan in which firefighters employed by volunteer companies would become county employes.
Crenca said Kramer asked her to "slow down our fast track" on Silver Spring so his staff has time to gather information requested by council members, who have been wary about the traffic problems that many residents believe Kramer's plan would generate.
Kramer's request for delay was unexpected because for months he had been urging swift action to take advantage of what he called "a window of opportunity" for the redevelopment of downtown Silver Spring. Crenca's account of her conversation with Kramer was openly derided by council members who suggested that Kramer is concerned that he lacks the votes on the seven-member council to pass his plan.
Kramer "sure is in trouble" on the two key issues, Crenca said in an interview late yesterday. On the firefighters plan, she said, "He just didn't have the votes . . . at all." And, on Silver Spring, she said, "There has been a lack of coordination that makes us wonder and ask questions."
On the firefighters issue, the council spurned Kramer's call, made in an impassioned appearance before the council Monday, for immediate action on emergency legislation to switch career firefighters to county employment. Kramer said the decision to delay action for at least three weeks "greatly disappointed" him, and he estimated that it will cost taxpayers $50,000 a week in overtime pay mandated by a recent court decision.
Montgomery firefighters are paid with county funds but are employed by volunteer fire companies and are eligible for overtime pay under the U.S. District Court ruling. If converted to public employment, however, they would not be eligible for overtime in most cases.
Sources said that Kramer, who returned Sunday from a vacation cruise on the Mississippi River, was shaken to discover that he had only one firm vote for his proposal to add 13,500 jobs to development limits in Silver Spring. Sources said that council member Michael L. Subin, traditionally one of Kramer's strongest allies, told the executive that he could not support his bid.
However, Kramer is an accomplished negotiator, and in the 10 months since he took office has yet to lose on a significant issue with the council. "He has got strong, steady nerves . . . . I don't see him worried," said Edmond F. Rovner, Kramer's special assistant.
Rovner said it has long been a fact of Montgomery County political life that any proposed changes in the county's entrenched system of career and volunteer firefighters will cause a controversy. And, he stressed, the delay on Silver Spring was prompted by the council request for additional information.
Kramer's firefighters bill would make the firefighters subject to the Fair Labor Standard Act and able to work up to 53 hours a week without overtime pay. Some volunteer fire companies oppose the move, fearing that it is part of Kramer's stated desire to centralize the county's firefighting operations.
The council delayed action in the hope that the executive and the volunteers would be able to reach a compromise on the bill, making the firefighters county employes but allowing the companies to retain day-to-day operational control.
Kramer, who may have the four votes needed for standard passage of the firefighters bill, has asked the council to pass the measure as emergency legislation, which requires five votes. As emergency legislation, the bill would go into effect immediately, and if there were a referendum challenge, would stay in effect until the referendum was held. As regular legislation, the bill would take 91 days to take effect and, if challenged by referendum, would not take effect unless voters upheld it.END NOTES
The council may vote on the firefighters Oct. 13, but Crenca said she can't predict when the Silver Spring issue will come to a vote.