Consider it the first fight after the marriage.
Earlier this month, newly elected Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson began lobbying the Maryland General Assembly to give him sole authority over appointments to two powerful regional boards, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission. Under current law, the executive's choices must have the County Council's approval.
The campaign didn't sit well with council members, and Johnson quickly retreated.
Now he is seeking authority from Annapolis to dump the county's five representatives to the planning commission (he eliminated the sanitary commission from his proposal) and replace them -- with council approval -- with members whose terms would run parallel to his. Commissioners currently serve overlapping four-year terms.
Better, council members say. But the legislation, which will be taken up by state lawmakers in committee next week, still doesn't sit well with them.
"We're going from [considering] an egregious, insane policy and replacing it with one that is just bad," said council member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel). "We don't want to pick a fight with the county executive, but on the other hand, I'm not willing to accept bad policy for the sake of appeasement."
Members of the county's legislative delegation say they are sympathetic to Johnson, but they have yet to make a commitment.
Johnson, for his part, said he is simply trying to fix an appointment system he regards as flawed. "We have commissioners serving longer than I am here," he said. "That makes no sense."
The move is Johnson's first real attempt to flex his executive muscles with the council, after a relatively tranquil honeymoon.
"What we have here is a shakeout period Johnson is going through with the council," said Ron Walters, a political science professor at the University of Maryland.
"The powers that accrue to the executive are limited. Jack is trying to expand those, which would give him more of an edge than [former county executive Wayne] Curry had."
The dispute is more than a piece of inside baseball. The commission, a quasi-judicial agency with taxing authority, wields considerable power over open space and development issues in the county. Ten members -- five from Prince George's and five from Montgomery County -- sit on the panel.
Under current law, the county executive must have cause to remove a commissioner, as well as the approval of a majority of the County Council.
Council member David Harrington (D-Bladensburg) said the General Assembly set up the removal process for a reason -- so that a system of checks and balances remains in effect.
"This is about setting policy, and the council should be an integral part in the process," Harrington said. "This isn't like the appointment of the police chief or some other agency head. This board has considerable control over economic development in this county. It should not just be held accountable to the county executive."
Added council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville): "From Day One, we said we wanted to work collaboratively with him. We are now at loggerheads, and that's not the way it should be."
While Johnson clearly bruised some feelings by trying to cut the council out of important appointments, Chairman Peter A. Shapiro (D-Brentwood) said the spat so far has been healthy.
"There has been a lot of give-and-take and a high-minded policy debate, which speaks well for the new leadership's ability to collaborate," he said.