Prince George's County Council Chairwoman Hilda R. Pemberton is expected to propose placing a charter amendment on the 1988 ballot to allow the county to set aside some contracts for minority firms only, a move that could break a deadlock with the black business community over the county's contracting policies.

"We are trying to reach some kind of accord," Pemberton said. "I will talk to {black business leaders} about seeing if that will be acceptable."

Pemberton said she has not met any resistance to the idea from other council members who would have to vote to put the question on the ballot, and she plans to meet with black business leaders this weekend.

The council will take up the minority procurement legislation Oct. 27.

Pemberton's movement toward a charter amendment reflects the growing pressures on her applied by the black business establishment since she and County Executive Parris Glendening unveiled their proposal to boost minority contracting.

The county leaders' plan calls for a voluntary goal of directing 30 percent of contracts to minority companies. The Coalition for Black Economic Development, an organization of black business and community activists, on the other hand, contends that the 30 percent goal should be mandatory.

Calling for a charter amendment would let the voluntary Pemberton-Glendening plan go into effect this year and still set up a countywide referendum during the November 1988 elections to see if voters support a mandatory set-aside.

June White Dillard, a member of the Coalition for Black Economic Development, would not comment directly on the proposal but said, "We want to come to the table with one bill . . . to improve the existing minority business program."

But council member Floyd E. Wilson Jr., who introduced legislation for a set-aside program, said he supports the referendum idea. "My gut feeling is a mandatory set-aside won't fly," he said.

County Attorney Larnzell Martin Jr. said the county charter requires that most contracts having a value of more than $15,000 be publicly advertised and awarded by competitive bid. A charter amendment is legally necessary to allow the county to restrict a percentage of contracts, Martin said.

A referendum on the set-aside issue would allow Pemberton and other county leaders to exit gracefully from an emotionally charged debate over contracting policies in a county with a population that is nearly 50 percent black. A majority of the nine council members do not support a mandatory set-aside or question its necessity. Instead, they appear to favor the plan proposed by Pemberton and Glendening. Pemberton and Wilson are the only black members of the council.

Pemberton, particularly, as one of the highest-ranking black elected officials in the county, has been under intense pressure to back a set-aside proposal. Last week, members of the coalition, an organization made up of the National Business League of Southern Maryland, the NAACP and other groups picketed outside the council chamber to protest Pemberton's bill.

Black business and community activists have criticized the county's progress toward past voluntary goals for minority contracting. In the fiscal year ended in June, 20 percent of contracts went to minorities, up from 12 percent in fiscal 1985.

Glendening spokesman Tim Ayers said yesterday a charter change to allow a set-aside would not change the county executive's position that maintains that even with a charter amendement, a set-aside program would be struck down by the courts.

Glendening "is still philosophically opposed" to a set-aside program, Ayers said.

"The fact there is a legal prohibition would cause an enormous amount of wasted effort. By the time we get to the ballot box, the goal will be accomplished."

The original Pemberton-Glendening plan would allow county purchasing agents the option of channeling some contracts to minority companies as long as there are at least three certified minority businesses in competition and the low bid does not exceed by 15 percent the past price for the contract.

It also would give bonus points to minority companies bidding on contracts and require contractors to use at least 20 percent minority subcontractors.