People looking to do business soon with the Prince George's County Council may want to rethink their plans.
That's because the nine-member council is poised to take an unprecedented two-month break for a holiday recess and building renovations.
Beginning in December, the county administration building in Upper Marlboro will get new seating, carpeting and audio and visual equipment. And equipment to accommodate the disabled will be installed.
The renovations are part of a larger plan to make the building, built in the 1970s, more comfortable and appealing, said council spokeswoman Karen Campbell. She said she did not know the cost of the work but said the council meeting room had to be empty.
No problem, said council Chairman M.H. Jim Estepp (D-Croom). The council, set to end its year on Nov. 23, usually takes December off and returns in early January. Council members earn $54,000 a year; the chairman is paid $55,000. Few council members hold other jobs.
Estepp said he did not see a need to schedule meetings in January, citing a light agenda this year. And he said there is no requirement that the council start work in January.
Still, some council members were surprised and irked.
"I was astonished to learn this,'' said Walter H. Maloney (D-Beltsville). "Apparently, there was some kind of informal meeting where Estepp decided that we weren't going to meet in January because the hearing room is being fixed."
Maloney said the decision could crowd the council's agenda at budget time in April and May. "This thing could trigger a whole freight train," Maloney said. "When you delay the start, everything that follows gets delayed, and it becomes hectic for us."
Council member Audrey E. Scott (R-Bowie) said she learned by accident about the delayed start when she tried to find out about the hearing scheduled for the $90 million New Town Center mall in Bowie.
Scott said a county clerk told her that a hearing had not been set because no meetings were scheduled for January.
Scott said that she tried to persuade her council colleagues to schedule a January meeting and act on the New Town Center but that she was rebuffed. She said the council could meet in a nearby conference room.
"It's upsetting," Scott said. "Honestly, I thought it was a joke when they said we would not be meeting in January. We've got work to do."
Scott and Maloney said they were particularly concerned about projects such as the New Town Center that need final council action.
Bill Shipp, an attorney for the mall project, wouldn't comment except to say, "We try to have our projects move along as expeditiously as possible."
For his part, Estepp said his colleagues may have misunderstood him. He said he would prefer not to meet in January but said meetings could be scheduled if needed.
"I told them that if there is something pressing, we could have another meeting in another room,'' Estepp said. "It would be up to the leadership to make that decision."
Scott is still worried. "I haven't found out yet who has the long vacation planned. But something has to be driving this."