Facing a barrage of criticism from black business leaders and community activists, the Prince George's County Council delayed a decision yesterday on competing proposals that would direct more county contracts to minority businesses.

The proposals were considered in a committee yesterday as the council heard four hours of public testimony, much of it critical about the county's record of awarding contracts to minority-owned firms.

After hearing from the public, the council moved out of committee with no recommendation a bill sponsored by County Council Chairwoman Hilda R. Pemberton and County Executive Parris Glendening.

The bill would institute a series of initiatives designed to help the county meet its voluntary goal to award 30 percent of contracts to minority companies.

Council members also moved with no recommendation a competing bill offered just moments before debate began on the issue, which would mandate that 30 percent of all contracts go to minority companies.

The second bill was drafted by the Coalition for Black Economic Development and sponsored on the council by Floyd E. Wilson Jr.

"I have heard from many people in the community that a direct set-aside is the optimum," Pemberton said. "I agree. But I want this bill to be of substance, not of flash and flare."

Earlier in the day, about 15 members of the coalition, made up of the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Business League and other black organizations, picketed outside the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro.

They were demanding that the council delay debate on the Pemberton-Glendening measure and asked that the council take up both proposals.

To avoid a confrontation, Wilson rushed the coalition-drafted bill into print and presented it to the council.

Also earlier in the day, Glendening, responding to suggestions from black business owners that more pressure be applied to private developers to hire more minority firms and professionals, announced that retiring Circuit Court Judge James H. Taylor would lead a special effort to expand the role of minority businesses in the private sector.

Taylor, as a consultant, will help develop initiatives to encourage private businesses to hire more minority firms and to work with county, state and federal agencies to secure financial resources for minority businesses.

Coalition members, just back from a weekend retreat where they discussed strategies on pressing the issue of economic development, said only a mandatory set-aside program would ensure that 30 percent of county work goes to minority businesses.

Three years ago, when the county adopted a 30 percent goal, black business leaders pushed unsuccessfully for a mandated set-aside program, but they were turned down by Glendening and the County Council.

"Historically, when you only have a goal . . . it has not come to fruition," said June White Dillard, president of the National Business League of Southern Maryland and author of the coalition proposal. "It is essential that the only legislation that you pass is a mandatory set-aside program."

But a majority of council members appeared committed to the voluntary goal. County Attorney Larnzell Martin has questioned whether a set-aside would survive a court challenge.

"I'm saying give the {Pemberton-Glendening} bill an opportunity to work," said council member Frank P. Casula. "I think we are short-changing ourselves by setting aside contracts."