A ballot showdown over recent legislation creating a single fire chief in Montgomery County looks unlikely -- this year, at least.
The county's volunteer firefighter association voted last month not to try to put the issue on the November ballot, said Mike Weiner, president of the Community Volunteer Fire and Rescue Association.
"We felt at this stage it did not make sense to do anything other than give the new environment a try," Weiner said.
Volunteer firefighters had threatened to gather enough petition signatures to put legislation on the ballot to let Montgomery voters decide whether they liked it. Volunteers have objected to having the department led by a single career fire chief, saying it will strip volunteers of their authority.
In 1996, Montgomery voters rejected by a 2-to-1 margin a ballot question that would have consolidated firefighting and rescue services under one chief. Similar attempts to move policymaking authority to a paid administrator in 1967, 1978 and 1987 also failed.
Weiner did not rule out the possibility that the county's volunteer firefighters would seek to defeat the measure on the 2006 ballot.
On May 4, the County Council unanimously approved the fire-chief bill, originally proposed by council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty). The new legislation puts Montgomery in line with most large jurisdictions nationally.
Under the current system, power in Montgomery's Division of Fire and Rescue Services is divided among a career fire chief and 19 volunteer chiefs. A civilian fire administrator and a seven-member Fire and Rescue Commission also play a role.
Under the new legislation, set to take effect Jan. 1, the job of civilian fire administrator is abolished. The Fire and Rescue Commission retains some authority, but most power is vested in a single career fire chief.
Chief Administrative Officer Bruce Romer said Tuesday that county officials hope to hire a new chief by the end of the year. He said it has not been determined whether there will be a nationwide search. A "transition team" of county officials, volunteer representatives and career fire personnel will meet regularly in coming months to hammer out the details, Romer said.
Attorney's Race Minus One
Montgomery County council member Michael L. Subin (D-At Large) will not run for Montgomery state's attorney in 2006, his chief of staff said this week.
Subin, who began publicly contemplating a run for the county's top prosecutor job in April 2003, "changed his mind" last month, said Lou D'Ovidio, Subin's top aide.
"His plan is to run for reelection [to the County Council] so he can finish the stuff he's working on," D'Ovidio said.
Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler (D) hasn't formally said he will step aside in 2006 to run for Maryland attorney general, but in local political circles it is expected that he will. Gansler's second term expires in 2006.
Criminal defense attorney Barry Helfand said in an interview this week that he will run for the Montgomery job.
"I'm planning to do it," Helfand said. "I just have to figure out how to do it."
Gansler said that "somebody" who works in his office will probably run to replace him, but he said it remains to be determined who in his office will do so. One frequently mentioned possibility is Deputy State's Attorney John J. McCarthy, who was recently elected president of the Montgomery County Bar Association.
Students on for Strathmore
When the new $100 million Strathmore Hall opens in February, it will have at least 10,000 patrons: all Montgomery County public school second-graders.
The budget recently passed by the County Council includes $60,000 to send second-graders to as-yet-unplanned daytime concerts by the National Philharmonic. The idea originated in talks between the school system and the Strathmore Hall Foundation, said school system budget director Marshall Spatz, to provide children with an initial exposure to the arts.
"The research indicates that second grade is the best grade level to introduce the arts," Spatz said.