Meet Richard Sinnott. The 53-year-old construction worker moved to an apartment in a Takoma Park house four years ago when his marriage broke up. For the past few weeks, he has been living in his car -- the victim, he said, of a Montgomery County law requiring the phase-out of illegal apartments.
Also meet Marty Novicky, the single mother of a 4-year-old boy. She rents a two-bedroom apartment on Westmoreland Avenue for $700 a month, plus utilities. If she has to move because of the county's controversial law, she figures the best she can do is Germantown, an hour's worth of traffic and stress from her job and her son's day care.
There are other people, other viewpoints.
Take, for instance, Frances Phipps, a pioneer when she moved to Takoma Park 18 years ago who has fought the freeway and Metro expansion to build a community. She was one of the homeowners who sued the county a decade ago over the illegal apartments and she, stressing standards for housing and neighborhoods, wants the law enforced.
A bitter and emotional controversy has formed in Montgomery County over the decade-old law, and Sinnott, Novicky and Phipps are just a few of the people whose lives will be affected.
Last week, the County Council said, in effect, that it didn't want to hear what these and other folks had to say. The council, in an unusual move that had been strongly urged by County Executive Sidney Kramer, refused to hold a public hearing on a proposal by council member Isiah Leggett to delay the deadline by a year so better notice and assistance could be given to tenants.
Council staff members said they could not remember the last time the council decided against holding a hearing. The refusal was all the more unusual because it flew in the face of two council members who strongly pushed for a hearing.
More than that, this is a county that prides itself on the lengths it goes to get public comment. Consider that last year, the council held no less than 48 public hearings -- on everything from the budget to proposed regulations for car towing companies to Silver Spring redevelopment.
Indeed, when council member Rose Crenca maneuvered last year for an important delay on the Silver Spring decision, she said, "The public needs time to give their opinions and the council needs time to make wise decisions."
Crenca -- along with members Michael Gudis, William E. Hanna Jr., Neal Potter and Michael L. Subin -- voted against a hearing on Takoma Park.
She explained, in a later interview, that she did not think any purpose would have been served by a public hearing. She said that public hearings are supposed to illuminate an issue and not be a vehicle for delay.
Subin, president of the council, said the 5-to-2 vote "was not a vote against a public hearing, it was a vote against the extension."
According to Subin, the council has been "hearing both sides on this for at least two months now and I think most of the majority in this case didn't feel there was anything else to be said."
He also said time was a problem. Council rules require at least a 30-day notice of a public hearing, which would have carried the council past the March 23 deadline the law sets.
There are some -- such as the Takoma Park tenant activists and council member Leggett -- who don't buy that. They think the council was afraid of the emotion and public pressure.
They point to comments by Potter during last week's debate that a hearing would be "disorderly" and "useless" and that the council should take care not to expose itself to such proceedings.
It's "a very emotional and highly debatable topic with the citizens of Takoma Park . . . . It is not typical of the debate we hold in the chambers of the council," Leggett said. But, he argued, no public official or elected body should refuse to open its ears out of fear of the amount of public pressure or emotion.
This is an issue about homes, Leggett said, and people have deep feelings about where they live. "The passion won't go away," he said.
The group formed by Takoma Park tenants opposed to the law has started making its point standing outside the homes of county officials. They are mapping strategy and classifying council members as "saints, sinners or salvageable." And, the issue has attracted the interest and ire of Mitch Snyder, an advocate for the homeless who is known nationally but not for quitting.
The council refused a public hearing, but there are few in Rockville who think they have heard the last word.