Montgomery County Council members have decided to hire their own lobbyist for the coming General Assembly session because they do not trust the county's three full-time lobbyists to fairly represent the panel's opposition to the intercounty connector.
The council decision underscores the staying power of a connector road that would join Interstates 95 and 270 north of the Capital Beltway three months after Gov. Parris N. Glendening (D) announced he was killing it.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) has vowed to fight for the road despite opposition from the governor and the council, and top State House leaders have taken up his cause. But the split between Duncan and the council worries Montgomery's State House delegation, whose members say cooperation is the key to success in Annapolis.
In a closed session Tuesday, council members agreed to hire lobbyist Devin Doolan to track legislation related to the connector during the next session. Doolan received about $20,000 last year for representing the Montgomery Planning Board in Annapolis. Council members expect to work out their own financial agreement with him this week.
Montgomery already employs three staff lobbyists to push the county agenda, which usually focuses on securing state aid for construction projects. But the lobbying operation reports to Duncan, who has informed the council that he will not use it to thwart attempts to revive the $1 billion road project.
At the heart of the debate is a clash between the council's legal authority to set local land-use policy and the state's responsibility to ensure a working transportation system. The council is moving to erase the 18-mile connector route from planning books even as State House leaders try to block the sale of the property.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) has said he would not allow the council to undermine state transportation policy. He dismissed the council decision to hire its own representative as "a waste of taxpayers' money."
"The lobbyist will be as effective as a Ping-Pong ball bouncing off a bull," Miller said. "If they want to pay for it out of their own pockets, that's fine. But it's an offense to the people of Montgomery and the state to hire someone to oppose this road that is very much needed."
By hiring their own lobbyist, council members are breaking from the way Montgomery has traditionally done business in Annapolis. The council has not had its own representative in Annapolis since the 1980s.
"The issue here is not the ICC," said council President Michael L. Subin (D-At Large). "At issue here is the council's integrity. I do not believe it is a legitimate use of senatorial power and prerogative to come in and make land-use decisions for Montgomery County."
Duncan disagreed. "The bigger issue here is that the council needs to get in step with what this county is demanding--significant traffic relief," said Duncan, whose polls during last year's campaign showed broad support for the road. "Hiring a lobbyist is not the solution."