Both Republican and Democratic party leaders in Prince George's County are opposing an effort by County Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) to extend voter-mandated term limits from two terms to three.

Hendershot launched a petition drive this month to allow council members to run for three consecutive four-year terms. He also proposed to stagger the term limits by making the change effective for all but three current members, who would be barred from seeking third terms. The county executive would continue to be limited to two terms.

Under his plan--which requires 10,000 signatures by next August to be placed on the November 2000 ballot--council members Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie), Marvin F. Wilson (D-Glenarden) and Dorothy F. Bailey (D-Temple Hills) would not be eligible to run for a third term, although their successors would be.

Seven of the nine council members are ineligible to run for reelection in 2002 under the current voter-mandated term limits approved in 1992.

Hendershot said he randomly selected the three council districts whose current representatives would not be able to take advantage of the change.

Democratic Party leader Mary Butler Murphy said she is philosophically opposed to term limits but does not support the way Hendershot is trying to change the law.

"I have a problem with him just up and picking the three folks who were going to go," Murphy said. "It's like, who died and put him in charge?"

Michael Steele, the county's Republican Party chairman, said he also is concerned about the process under which Hendershot selected the three council seats. Steele noted Hendershot's system would eliminate two of the four African American members--Wilson and Bailey--on the council.

"Why them?" Steele said. "And why not apply the limits to himself?"

Hendershot and council member Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood) are serving their first terms in office. Both are eligible to run again in 2002. Hendershot won his seat on the council in 1997 in a special election to fill a vacancy when Anne T. MacKinnon resigned to become executive director of the Maryland Democratic Party.

Hendershot said he proposed the change because he is concerned about the instability that will be created when a majority of the council turns over in 3 1/2 years.

In his view, Hendershot said, that turnover "weakens the electorate and empowers the unelected, the appointed officials and the planning staff. There is a relatively steep learning curve, especially where zoning issues are concerned."

But Steele said Republicans will fight the plan.

"The council functioned very well with seven new members and a new county executive," Steele said. "Clearly, his arguments fall flat. The growing sentiment among people is that Hendershot should leave well enough alone."

Scott, one of the three council members who could not run for a third term under Hendershot's proposal, said Hendershot never talked to her about it.

As the lone Republican on the council, Scott said she is certain that partisan politics is behind it. "I thought it was amusing and rather predictable," she said.

Scott said she has not heard complaints from voters that they are unhappy with term limits or about the current system.

"The point is that term limits were imposed by the citizens, and I haven't heard anyone express dissatisfaction with term limits," she said. "I think it's very self-serving."

Shapiro said he opposes term limits but does not believe that council members should be lobbying for a change that will affect them. "It's difficult to make a law that applies to ourselves," he said.