It is not unusual for a council member to get out of his seat during a council hearing and confer with a colleague, or walk out of the room to the offices behind the platform.
But it was clear from the empty seats and the flurry of activity in the chamber during last week's council session that a lot more was going on.
Stan Brown, the people's zoning counsel, was in the audience. Tom Himler, the county's director of management and budget, and Aisha Braveboy, the county executive's liaison to the council, kept walking in and out of the room.
Then when the council voted on a stack of bills that had been tabled the previous week, even though County Executive Jack B. Johnson had sought approval, the picture began to come into focus.
The council was waiting for the county executive to take care of some of its business before it would take care of his.
In this case, the council's business was making sure the attorney who is contracted by the county to monitor land use and zoning decisions was paid.
According to sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Brown had not been paid for the work he had done for the county for months.
The amount owed: about $55,000.
No one from Johnson's office would explain why Brown's pay was delayed. Spokesman John Erzen would only say: "There were some questions that needed to be resolved. Once those questions were resolved, he was paid the full amount he was owed."
Erzen did not know what those questions were.
Council members speculated that the holdup had to do with the history behind Brown's appointment.
"I think it was a) not getting his guy in, b) the changes we made to the appointment and c) our decision to leave Stan in place," said a council member, who asked that his name not be used.
Johnson has tried to replace Brown since he first got into office almost two years ago.
Last year, the council proposed a bill to strip Johnson of his ability to appoint the so-called people's zoning counsel. It later agreed to provide Johnson with three choices to fill the position.
Johnson was then to have chosen from the council's list but instead ignored it and nominated Christopher Randolph, who was not on the list. Randolph would have replaced Brown, who has a bachelor's degree in city planning and an advanced degree in urban and regional planning.
Randolph had worked in the state's attorney's office for four years when Johnson was in charge, and then joined the law firm of Marcell Solomon, formerly Johnson's personal attorney. Randolph left Solomon's firm last October. After several council members questioned his qualifications, Johnson withdrew Randoph's name. At that time, Johnson said there were no problems with Randolph's nomination. He said that he would resubmit Randolph's name in January, but he never did.
In April, the council approved a zoning bill that stripped Johnson of his power to name the so-called people's zoning counsel, leaving the council with sole authority to appoint.
This summer, the council appointed Brown.
During the back-and-forth, Brown continued to serve as people's zoning counsel, attending District Council meetings and zoning examiner hearings.
Once the council members were assured during their backroom meeting that a check had been given to Brown, they added the bills that Johnson wanted passed to their agenda.
Council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) said last week that he was glad to see the issue come to an end.
"That issue has been resolved to everyone's satisfaction," he said.
Referendum Fight Starts
Council member Douglas J.J. Peters (D-Bowie) warned proponents of a charter amendment that he and many of his colleagues would campaign to defeat their referendum bid to add two at-large seats to the County Council.
Looks like the campaign has begun.
"We're beginning to work through the process," Peters said.
One of the first steps is to get as many elected officials as possible on their side.
Council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) has met with various elected officials throughout the county trying to get them to oppose the plan to change the makeup of the council and the way its leadership is selected.
Council member Marilynn Bland (D-Clinton) is holding a forum to discuss why she thinks the council referendum, which has qualified for the November ballot, is a bad idea.
Peters said council members who oppose the plan will eventually put together some literature, set up a "Vote No to Question H" account, write letters to editors and go to town meetings to make their case.
"It's about timing," Peters said. "We'll put on a full-court press in the last two weeks" before the Nov. 2 election.
In the meantime, Dean has met with members of the Prince George's County Democratic Central Committee and the Senate delegation to join the opposition.
Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) is the only member of the council who is pushing for Question H, which would need to be approved by voters to become law.
The Democratic Central Committee was expected to take up the issue at a meeting on Tuesday night.