The County Council will ask state lawmakers tonight to pass legislation giving it authority to remove commissioners that represent the county on the board of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.
The council plans to make the request during a "fact-finding" meeting of the House of Delegates bi-county committee at WSSC headquarters.
Members of the Montgomery County Council, upset with the current board, have been clamoring for changes in the agency's governing structure. The state legislature, which formed WSSC, is the only body that can make those changes.
While not criticizing County Executive Jack B. Johnson's two appointments to the commission over the past year, council member David Harrington (D-Bladensburg), chairman of the council committee that oversees WSSC, said the County Council wants to be on the same level as Johnson (D), Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and the Montgomery County Council.
Unlike the county executives and the Montgomery County Council, the Prince George's County Council does not have the power to oust a WSSC commissioner, even if it has cause for removal.
Prince George's council members privately questioned Johnson's appointees after learning that one, Prem P. Agarwal, a supporter and campaign contributor, was paid $1.46 million as an agency subcontractor during his first nine months as a commissioner. Agarwal owns G.E. Frisco, an Upper Marlboro lumber and building supply business.
The council members also privately raised concerns earlier this year after Johnson's other appointee, Joyce Starks, voted in her first commission meeting in February to fire John R. Griffin, the recently ousted general manager. These members said they felt that Starks appeared to have been doing Johnson's bidding in the attempt to get rid of Griffin.
According to a state statute that has been in place for more than 20 years, the Montgomery County Council can approve a resolution to remove a WSSC commissioner. The resolution must be approved by a majority of the council. The decision by the council is not necessarily final because the county executive can override its vote by offering his opinion in writing within 30 days of the vote.
"We're just looking for equal power," Harrington said this week. "Montgomery Council can tell its folks, 'Remember, we have this authority.' We don't have similar leverage."
WSSC Chairman Starks; Vice Chairman Gerald Roper; Carla R. Joyner, the acting general manager; Johnson; Duncan; representatives from both County Councils; and the director of the Office of Policy Analysis for the General Assembly have been invited to attend the meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.
At Odds Over Study
It looks as though the rift between the County Council and schools chief Andre J. Hornsby remains as wide as it was three months ago, when Hornsby and an entourage of his deputies walked out of a meeting with council members.
Hornsby exited the meeting shortly after the council voted against the school board's plan to expand existing campuses to accommodate the 9,000 students expected enroll in county schools by 2006.
Instead of going along with the school board, the council voted to form a task force to study whether additions should be made to the schools or if new schools should be built to deal with the county's burgeoning student population.
Now members of the task force say the school district is not cooperating with the task force and the consulting firm it hired to analyze school population figures.
In a memo to members of the task force, DeJONG, the firm, said it was being stonewalled.
"The consequence of not receiving information as outlined in our request for data will be that DeJONG cannot analyze student enrollments, understand housing patterns or develop alternatives with the degree of accuracy and speed that has become standard in the industry in the last few years," Tony Glover of DeJONG wrote.
"The data received on August 6th tells us little more than the hard copy data received earlier."
But school officials say they have been cooperating as much as they can.
"Prince George's County Public Schools has provided all of the necessary data -- the same information we provided our own contracted demographer -- to the Task Force on High School Capacity Alternatives for the completion of its work," Hornsby said in a written response.
Hornsby said much of what the consultant is asking for, including information about the ethnicity and lunch code of students, is not "reflective of the role" of the task force.
"The role of the Task Force is the determination of high school space, not the stratification of personal characteristics of our student population," Hornsby said. "The Board attorney has raised concerns regarding the legality of releasing data to DeJONG regarding race or socio-economic status of students. Utilizing the data that we have provided, DeJONG can answer all the questions that are relevant to the work of the Task Force."
Council member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel) said the delays by the school board may prompt the need to postpone the task force's meeting on Sept. 15.
"I am hopeful that we will still be able to move forward on time; however, the prospects are increasingly bleaker," Dernoga told task force members in an e-mail.