Meet the plain-talking political gurus of the county's new chief executive.

Lawyer Michael W. Davis says his role as a top adviser to Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker (R) might be good for drumming up a client or two.

His transition team co-chairman, florist Beverly Wilhide, confides that she accepted a paid position as Ecker's chief aide because "I don't think he can do it alone."

Neither Davis nor Wilhide has much political or government experience. And both said they are as surprised as everyone else about how they ended up heading Ecker's 100-plus-member transition team.

What they share, besides the unpaid transition team posts, is a mandate from Ecker to make county government more open. It is only through public negotiation that Ecker can hope to resolve the nettlesome growth and budget issues that divide the county, they said.

"Liz {Bobo, the former executive} did one thing," Davis said. "By alienating so many people in the county, she politicized everyone. A lot of people felt like they were left outside the process, so a kind of shadow government was formed, and it just swept up people like us."

At times, it seems that every action by Davis or Wilhide is intended to reinforce the idea of openness, even if it courts trouble.

One of their first acts was to help Ecker assemble a transition team that seems blind to party affiliations. Their transition team, which is expected to be phased out beginning in January, includes several high-profile Democrats and some critics of government operations.

"They've said they will entertain minority reports if we don't agree with the full committee. That sounds encouraging," said civic activist Scot Hoeksema.

The transition team hardly endeared itself to county employees last week when it released a preliminary report that criticized the work force as poorly trained. It also called for employees to be more "people oriented" when dealing with the public.

Davis and Wilhide said the recommendations are aimed at sending a message that the government works for the people, not the other way around.

Davis, 39, and Wilhide, 54, first took an interest in county politics as a result of their participation in the county Chamber of Commerce. Davis, who opened his Columbia law practice in 1982, was chairman of the chamber's legislative committee. Wilhide, who moved to Ellicott City in 1962, was the chamber's president in 1987 and 1988.

They became more outspoken as members of the county's Economic Forum. The forum began as a pro-business group but eventually allied itself with a wide range of civic, minority and farm groups. It increasingly played a vocal role in opposing Bobo's policies.

That opposition, part of what Davis calls a shadow government, also included two slow-growth groups that popped up during Bobo's tenture. The Coalition of Community Associations and Howard Countians for Responsible Growth each produced leaders who ran for seats on the five-member County Council. Both lost relatively close races.

"This is a community where people really want to be involved in their county government. They don't want to sit on the sidelines," Davis said.

It was in part as a result of their work on the Economic Forum that the two came to Ecker's attention. Both served on his issues team during the campaign.

Davis said he might be interested someday in running for public office. In the meantime, he wouldn't mind if his current position earned him a few new clients.

"Business development is certainly an aspect of it," Davis said. "If you can get some notoriety for doing good deeds, then that certainly doesn't hurt . . . . But I think I'm more motivated by the idea that if something is not being done right, then you ought to go out and do it yourself."

Wilhide too said she has been encouraged to run for office in the past, but she has no such plans now. Instead, she said, she accepted a position as Ecker's chief aide in part "because it is my chance to give a little bit to the community that has helped me out a lot. Also, after all my work in the campaign, I feel a certain responsibility to follow through on my philosophies. I don't think he can do it alone."

Carol Arscott, chairman of the county Republican Party, said Ecker couldn't have chosen better advisers.

"They are inspired choices," Arscott said. "These are two people who stuck with Chuck through thick and thin during the campaign. They are extremely loyal. They tell him the truth, not what he wants to hear. And they work very hard."