Prince George's County Council Chairman Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills) spends part of his workweek drafting bills and deciding what business the county's legislative body should take up.
He finishes his week working for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, setting up conferences and preparing presentations that will be given to community groups.
Knotts, who has worked for the water and sewer utility for 20 years, is its assistant director of intergovernmental relations.
Other local elected officials have held government jobs. Until last year, Prince George's council member Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) was an administrator for the Maryland Department of Labor. Montgomery County Council member Howard A. Denis (R-Potomac-Bethesda) works on Capitol Hill as a staff member for a House committee.
But recent turmoil at WSSC -- including top-level resignations, political infighting, allegations of mismanagement and a possible state takeover -- have led some to question Knotts's dual service.
"I'm not sure how you can represent both masters in a public forum," said Roberto Arguero, chairman of the WSSC's citizen advisory board. "It just strikes me that it sticks you in an uncomfortable situation."
WSSC Commissioner Jinhee Kim Wilde (Montgomery) said she is "very uneasy" about Knotts's situation.
"I've been upfront with him about my concerns," said Wilde, who will leave the board of commissioners in December because of growing worries about dysfunction on the board.
Knotts said he sought counsel on the issue before he ran for office in 2002.
Assistant Attorney General Robert A. Zarnoch said in a letter that he did not see any problem with the dual service. He said there might be "occasions where the employee/councilmember may be obliged to disqualify himself" and suggested that Knotts consult with the county Board of Ethics and the State Ethics Commission.
Anne Magner, associate county attorney and counsel to the Prince George's Board of Ethics, did not return two calls made to her office seeking comment.
Ralph Grutzmacher, the council's attorney, said that Knotts is on solid ethical ground and that there are many lawmakers who are also employed by agencies that do business with the county government.
"In my opinion, he has overexcused himself," Grutzmacher said. "He is so careful."
For the most part, Knotts steers clear of WSSC matters. When an agency-related bill comes before the council, he passes the ceremonial gavel to Vice Chairman Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) and leaves the chamber. He directs questions about the agency to council member David Harrington (D-Bladensburg), chair of the Transportation, Housing and Environment Committee, which oversees the utility and reviews its budget.
However, there was one WSSC vote, viewed now as one of the council's more controversial, that Knotts did not walk away from.
In February, he was one of eight council members who voted to confirm Joyce Starks, the utility's chairman, to the board. Council member Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel) was absent.
Starks, an administrator at the National Institutes of Health, was appointed to the board by County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). The Prince George's and Montgomery County executives each control three seats on the six-member board.
Starks has since drawn sharp disapproval from WSSC officials and local lawmakers for delaying the awarding of contracts and contributing to other disarray at the agency. At her first board meeting, she was one of four board members who voted to oust General Manager John R. Griffin. The action later was overturned by WSSC counsel. Several months later, Starks led an attempt to restructure a key WSSC department in a closed meeting that drew criticism.
Her actions have prompted local and state lawmakers to call for the removal of all of the commissioners and an overhaul of the commission.
Knotts does not report directly to Starks, but the commission sets agency policy and hires top managers. Knotts was unstinting in his praise.
"I've had the opportunity to meet with Ms. Starks, and I am so pleased and so proud [about] my short meeting with you," he said before his vote.
"I'm sure that you will add so much to a place that needs so much in your leadership and ability."
Asked about his vote for Starks, Knotts called it an "oversight" but said he didn't think it was a conflict of interest. He refused to comment on Starks's ability to govern.