Sure, they looked like just a bunch of Boy Scouts in their khaki shirts and merit badges. But these 11- and 12-year-olds were a tough audience as they quizzed County Executive James N. Robey during a troop meeting last week at Glen Mar United Methodist Church in Ellicott City.

"Are you a Republican?" one asked.

"I'm a Democrat," he answered.

"Did you ever do anything like Nixon and the Watergate?" asked another.

"No!" he replied emphatically.

Robey explained that he would finish his second term next year, and he said he would "run for something else."

"Run for president?" prodded a fidgety questioner.

"You're worse than newspaper reporters," said Robey, shaking his head. "I'm going to run for a position in state government."

Afterward, the county executive said he had his eye on the Maryland Senate seat in District 13, held by Republican Sandra B. Schrader of Columbia.

"We're looking at that real, real close," he said.

Robey, a Howard native and former chief of police for the county, has never challenged an incumbent for elective office. When he first ran for county executive in 1998, Robey's Republican predecessor, Charles Ecker, was leaving because of term limits.

Robey defeated Schrader's husband, former County Council member Dennis Schrader, for the post, and Robey's election helped erode the edge that Republicans had gained in county offices during the 1990s.

Robey, who turns 65 in January, cautioned that he hasn't decided anything definite, but he said, "I can't sit at home watching television."

Student Rep Fights for Vote

When Jeff Lasser was elected by Howard students last spring as their representative on the county Board of Education, he came to the job with a mission.

Lasser, a senior at Atholton High School, has been preparing a proposal to give the board's student member official voting rights. Currently, the student member can only express an opinion, which is recorded in the minutes.

But Lasser wants the county to adopt practices similar to those in Montgomery and Prince George's, where the boards permit their student members to vote on some policy matters, but not on the budget, collective bargaining agreements, school boundary changes or some personnel issues.

Lasser, who is scheduled to speak about the proposal at this afternoon's board meeting, hopes the board will agree to hold a public hearing on the issue later this month.

"I felt very strongly that it needed to be pursued this year," he said.

Even if Lasser wins the board's support, he still must persuade members of the Howard delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to sponsor legislation in January. State law requires that the legislature act on changes involving local boards of education.

Previous student board members in Howard have tried and failed to expand their voting rights, said Lasser, but he hopes his early start will give him an edge.

Uncertainty Surrounds Council

It seems that nothing involving Columbia governance is ever easy.

Last month the Columbia Council decided to ask for a formal opinion from the Maryland attorney general about the council's proposed dissolution, which supporters have been pushing as a way to streamline the community's confusing governance structure. Council members, who are elected from Columbia's 10 villages, also sit as the board of directors of the homeowner's association that sets the lien rate on Columbia property and provides services and amenities for the community's 97,000 residents.

The attorney general is looking into the matter, said spokesman Kevin J. Enright, but there's no way the office will issue an opinion by Monday, the date the Columbia Council is scheduled to take a final vote on dissolving itself. A formal opinion usually requires two months of preparation, he said.

Assistant attorney general Robert A. Zarnoch wrote a letter in August to Del. Elizabeth Bobo (D-Howard), saying that dissolving the council is unlikely to hamper communication between Columbia residents and the board.

"I don't know what the will of the board is at this point," said Joshua Feldmark, chairman of the council and a Wilde Lake resident. Feldmark said it was likely that representatives will offer a proposal Monday that the council immediately cease meeting during the remainder of current fiscal year, which ends April 30.

That's not a permanent solution, but it does provide time to receive the attorney general's opinion, Feldmark said. Then next year, the council can revive itself to decide whether it should die, again.