Shortly after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) announced that he wants Del. Robert L. Flanagan (R-Howard) to be the new director of the Maryland Department of Transportation, Louis Pope's phone started ringing.

Pope, chairman of the Howard County Republican Central Committee, which would be charged with appointing a replacement for Flanagan in the House, got calls from three members of Flanagan's district who want to take his place. They are pollster Carol Arscott; Brian Harlin, who ran unsuccessfully for County Council last year; and Warren Miller, a member of the Republican Central Committee.

Flanagan's appointment must be ratified by the state Senate, and that could take a couple of weeks, given the former House minority whip's relationship with the Democratic leadership.

"Bob's appointment could be one of the more contentious ones," Pope said, adding that he had "locked horns" with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's). Flanagan won't resign his delegate post until he's sworn in, Pope said.

No Dancing in the Rain

Last year, County Executive James N. Robey (D) took an umbrella to his State of the County address. This year, he might need a full raincoat.

The umbrella was a prop to demonstrate how Robey was hoping not to dip into Howard's "rainy day" fund, meant for dire economic times when the county is struggling to balance its budget. While Robey avoided tapping the fund this year, next year's budget may be even tighter as the economy continues to show signs of weakness.

It's unclear whether he'll try to tap the fund, but he is trying to raise the transfer tax, which is levied every time a property is sold.

Aides said the budget will be a key part of his lunchtime address at the Columbia Sheraton today.

Legislative Planning

During its meeting Tuesday, the Howard legislative delegation decided to ask the rest of the General Assembly to approve about $500,000 in bonds to restore the historic Blandair mansion in Columbia, which the county hopes will become the centerpiece of a park.

The delegation also voted against issuing bonds to renovate the county courthouse. At its meeting next week, the group is expected to take up other bills, including one that would require the school superintendent to issue a report on how the county plans to implement all-day kindergarten.

Thanks for the Memories

The fun of the children's inauguration party for Ehrlich will be preserved under glass, according to the event's organizer.

Kathy Rensin, who pulled together the inauguration kickoff event at Howard Community College on Saturday, collected signed, colored drawings by some of the hundreds of children who partied with Ehrlich, Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele and their families.

The pictures, along with the artists' names, will be assembled into a collage that will be displayed in one of the state government buildings in Annapolis, Rensin said. The party drew dozens more children than expected, she said, but "we didn't want to turn any child away, and we didn't. We were prepared."

Spahn Steps Down

The Ellicott City Business Association will elect a president later this month, following the resignation of Jared Spahn, its leader for the last two years.

In a letter last week to Ellicott City business representatives, Spahn, a local developer, said he decided to step down this month after his companies, Old Town Construction LLC and First Real Estate Management LLC, moved their offices from Ellicott City to the Waverly Woods community in Woodstock.

"As a result, I feel that it is in the best interest of the Ellicott City Business Association that I do not pursue a third term as president," Spahn wrote.

During the last two years, the business group raised more than $25,000 from its new Taste of Ellicott City, a culinary tour of the downtown historic district, Spahn said. The group, which started an arts festival, has boosted its membership to more than 500 businesses. Recently, it spruced up Ellicott City's downtown with decorative banners, trees and flower baskets on telephone poles.

Staff writer Susan DeFord contributed to this report.