The Montgomery County Council returns from its summer recess Tuesday, and anticipation is rising over its upcoming vote on providing lower-cost drugs for county workers and retirees. If approved, the program would probably result in current and former employees obtaining drugs from Canada, saving money for the county.

County Attorney Charles W. Thompson Jr., in a memo issued Friday, said the county risks federal prosecution if it embarks on such an effort, as championed by council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) and backed by four other members of the nine-member council.

Council members are aware that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is headquartered in Rockville and that it may not take kindly to the county promoting an activity that the FDA says is illegal. At the same time, the FDA has yet to sue a local government to halt drug importation, a stance described in Thompson's memo as a "somnolent policy of non-action."

"The problem," said County Council President Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), "is that we have an FDA in our back yard that refuses to bring the issue to court, leaving us at the local level to question the validity of their position." Silverman said the council would vote on the issue at its meeting Sept. 21.

Perez proposes entering into a contract with an intermediary to provide lower-cost drugs under terms that would almost definitely require importing drugs from Canada, following a model established by the city of Boston.

Today, the Maryland Pharmacists Association is hosting a luncheon in Rockville to discuss the "threats and dangers posed by importation" in advance of the council's vote.

Duncan Mum on Run

County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) has faced another opportunity to state publicly his political ambitions -- and ducked.

Appearing Tuesday on WTOP radio, Duncan was asked by host Bruce Alan to assess the Democratic National Convention, which he attended, and last week's Republican conclave, which he did not attend.

He acknowledged having seen very little of the Republican event -- mainly the speech of Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.), who has crossed party lines to support President Bush. "I've never seen a speech delivered with more hate than that person did," Duncan said. "It was just sad for our country."

He said he anticipated a "very vigorous and aggressive campaign" from the Democratic nominees but was coy about whether he would mount a 2006 campaign for governor. Alan practically begged him to say something concrete: "If there's anything you want to announce right now, go right ahead, I don't want to stop you."

"We'll see what happens down the road," Duncan said.

WSSC Gets Help With Search

The often paralyzed board of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission has taken its first step toward choosing a new general manager.

In a teleconference early Saturday morning, the six commissioners voted unanimously to select the Boston-based firm of Isaacson, Miller to lead the nationwide search for a new general manager of the water and sewage utility. The firm has accepted the offer, said utility spokesman Chuck Brown, but the board has decided not to publicize the decision until after a contract is negotiated.

State legislators have instructed board members to select a new general manager before the end of the year or face major changes to the board's governance when the General Assembly reconvenes in January. The commissioners have faced allegations of mismanagement and conflicts of interest since they tried to fire John R. Griffin, then the general manager, in a closed-door meeting Feb. 18.

Isaacson, Miller, founded in 1982, has conducted more than 2,500 searches, mainly for nonprofit groups, according to the firm's Web site. The firm also prides itself on a commitment to diversity in hiring. Forty percent of the firm's positions over the past decade have been filled by women and 25 percent by people of color, according to its Web site.