A state senator is drafting a bill that would add a seventh commissioner to the board of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, a measure that he said would prevent the kind of disarray that has plagued the water-and-sewage agency in recent months.
The legislation, sponsored by Leonard H. Teitelbaum (D-Montgomery), would establish a seventh commissioner to vote only on personnel and salary issues. It would also require a supermajority of five votes to approve any personnel decision.
Teitelbaum, an engineer and a WSSC commissioner from 1981 to 1987, said the measure is necessary to end the recent turmoil at the utility, which serves 1.6 million customers in Prince George's and Montgomery counties.
"We have never had a situation quite as bad as this one," he said.
The six-member board voted 4-2 on Feb. 18 to fire General Manager John R. Griffin and his deputy. The dismissals were overturned on a technicality, and the board then took almost six months before paying each manager more than $250,000 to step down.
Teitelbaum said his proposal would have prevented the firings. "This event would never have occurred in the first place if there had been a supermajority requirement," he said.
But Montgomery County Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large) said the bill would only increase paralysis at the agency.
"This proposal is a prescription for gridlock," he said. "Requiring five out of seven people approve something creates a minority veto."
Under Teitelbaum's plan, the seventh commissioner would be appointed by the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources to a two year-term and would not require confirmation. The county executives of Montgomery and Prince George's each appoint three commissioners to four-year terms.
Silverman said he opposes any proposal that would allow a state cabinet member to appoint a commissioner.
"Having [Gov. Robert L.] Ehrlich control the WSSC is a bad idea," he said.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) and Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) declined to comment on the proposal. But both executives have previously expressed opposition to any state intervention
Teitelbaum's call for reform is among the first in what could become a series of attempts to reshape the troubled agency.
Also yesterday, three Prince George's County delegates sent a letter to Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. requesting an opinion on "whether the commissioners are fulfilling their statutory and fiduciary responsibilities." The delegates also asked Curran for advice on removal of commissioners found to be breaching their responsibilities.
Earlier this month, Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) drafted legislation calling for the removal of all six commissioners.
The legislative process to change WSSC is particularly complex, requiring the approval of a half-dozen stakeholders, including the legislative delegations of both counties, the General Assembly and the governor. But legislators believe some reform next year is likely.
"I would say there is probably a 70 percent chance that some legislation would pass," Teitelbaum said.
Staff writer Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.