Less than three hours after Rockville Mayor Douglas Duncan gave an inaugural address emphasizing the "spirit of optimism and goodwill" he said was needed after a bitter campaign, he presided over the firing of City Manager Richard Robinson and then sat silently through a council member's scathing account of Duncan's efforts.

Duncan, who used his pledge to dismiss Robinson as a key campign issue in his battle against incumbent Mayor Steven Van Grack, announced at the new council's first meeting Monday that the members had voted in closed session to dismiss Robinson. Later he explained, "I felt strongly we needed to make a decision . . . . This is the first step toward getting a fresh start and opening up our process."

But council member Stephen N. Abrams, beginning his fifth term, likened Duncan's actions to "the tantrums of a petulant child-mayor."

As part of the statement Abrams read aloud during the meeting, he called the 20-minute executive session "a sham," saying that the decision to fire Robinson had come as a result of conversations Duncan had with council members James F. Coyle, Viola Hovsepian and David Robbins. At the executive session, which was attended by the mayor, the council and the city attorney, Abrams cast the lone vote against firing Robinson.

Under the term of Robinson's contract, he will be paid $35,000, six months salary. Rockville Planning Director Rick W. Kuckkahn was named acting city manager. Three council members will head a search for a city manager.

In his speech Monday night and in a subsequent interview, Abrams said Duncan had spoken with the other three council members about the city manager issue. He charged that Duncan "made no real effort to reach me, until it was too late. I was excluded from the process."

Abrams said, and Duncan confirmed, that on Friday, as mayor-elect, Duncan met with Coyle and Robinson at City Hall to ask Robinson to resign or face certain firing because the new mayor had the support of enough council members to do it. Duncan said he tried to call Abrams at his office 35 minutes before the scheduled meeting, but did not reach him.

"It was all said and done by time he even thought of coming to me," Abrams said. "The manager had already responded, told Doug he wouldn't quit, before I even came into the picture . . . . And this mayor talked about opening up the process . . . . I wonder."

Duncan made more public hearings and more public involvement a key point in his campaign, deriding Van Grack for "closing City Hall's doors" in not calling for additional public hearings on issues such as a proposal to limit development on Rockville Pike.

Abrams reserved his sharpest criticism for Coyle, Hovsepian and Robbins, for giving "different indications to the public" during the campaign of how they would act on the Robinson issue.

Although Duncan made repeated promises to seek Robinson's dismissal, Hovsepian and Robbins said at forums and in interviews that they wanted to work with Robinson before making any decision on his future with the city. Coyle, reelected to a second term, said during the campaign that he would wait until after the election to make a decision, but was also quoted in one Montgomery newspaper as saying Robinson should continue, "if he continues to do what the mayor and council want."

In interviews this week -- before and after the vote to dismiss Robinson -- Coyle, Hovsepian and Robbins each said they were reacting to what they perceived as the others' sentiment, particularly Duncan's, to drop Robinson.

Five hours before the Monday night vote, Robbins said, "My sense is you have got Duncan who lacks confidence in him {Robinson} and I understand that confidence level isn't there with at least two others."

Abrams said he expects to be "the odd man out" on many issues, but said, "That's fine. I'll be the voice to tell people what's going on. This whole process was a secret from me and from the public . . . . You have got to be fearful of a council that makes a decision before a public meeting and of three council members who broke campaign promises on the first day in office."

After the announcement of his firing, Robinson said in an interview, "Doug made such a strong pitch to get rid of me during the campaign, I think he had to do this . . . . I just don't feel I really had a chance with the others. I thought I would get that opportunity to work with them first."

Robinson, 44, has been mired in controversy throughout much of his 21 months on the job, first for trying to place under his control the city clerk and the city attorney, the only two positions traditionally independent of the city manager.

Later in his tenure, Robinson received sharp criticism for his relationship with three minority employes who left the City Hall amid accusations of racism on the part of Robinson.

Robinson, who cleared out his desk Tuesday, said he plans to "reassess what I am going to do. You have a city here that has had four mayors in about as many years. I thought the political situation would become more stable here. I was wrong. I got caught in the middle."