As gas prices rose recently, county employees were urged to conserve fuel.

Three weeks ago, County Administrator Bruce Romer sent a memo to all employees outlining "driving tips" to be used when operating a county vehicle.

The tips included limiting air conditioner use, consolidating trips, driving slowly, avoiding extended idling and refueling in the evening, the idea being there's a little more gas in a gallon when it's cooler out.

The tips, which Romer obtained from the Ohio chapter of the American Automobile Association, even urged employees to keep windows closed when traveling at high speeds to avoid "air drag." That, the memo says, can reduce gas mileage by 10 percent.

But Romer's memo never mentioned one of the most obvious gas-saving techniques: driving a more fuel-efficient vehicle.

Incidentally, Romer's county-owned vehicle is a Ford Expedition, which gets about 14 miles a gallon while operating in a city environment.

Crashing Their Inboxes

In recent weeks, some Democratic activists have complained that they are receiving unsolicited e-mail from council member Steven A. Silverman (D-At Large), who is a candidate for county executive.

Earlier this week, the Quid Pro MoCo blog, which discusses political issues in the county, had an entry from an unnamed Democrat accusing Silverman staffers who used to work for Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) of using the congressman's e-mail list.

Silverman's opponent for the Democratic nomination, former council member Isiah Leggett, said he's heard similar complaints from people who show up on Silverman's e-mail list, as did others who did not want to be named.

While there is no evidence to support claims that Silverman has obtained Van Hollen's list, the speculation is in part fueled by the fact that Silverman's campaign team includes two veterans of Van Hollen campaigns.

Dorothy Davidson, a paid field organizer for Silverman, was instrumental in Van Hollen's races for the Maryland Senate and his successful campaign to unseat former representative Constance Morella in 2002. And Chuck Westover, who managed Van Hollen's 2004 reelection bid, is now Silverman's political director.

In an interview, Silverman was emphatic that he is not using Van Hollen's e-mail list. But Silverman offered insight into the art of building a campaign list, saying once an e-mail address is out in political circles, it stays out there for anyone savvy enough to use it.

Silverman said he gets e-mail every day in which Democrats forget to hide who else the message is being sent to.

"If someone thinks if they were on a Van Hollen e-mail list and they get something from me, so it had to come from the Van Hollen campaign, the chances are pretty good their address came off some Kerry e-mail list or Paul Sarbanes list or Barbara Mikulski list," Silverman said, referring to Maryland's two Democratic senators and Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry (D).

Regardless of how Silverman gets his e-mail addresses, don't expect Leggett to make an issue of it.

"These lists tend to overlap," Leggett said.

GOP Candidate vs. the Chamber

There are probably few suburban counties in the country where a rift could develop between the Republican candidate for county executive and the chamber of commerce.

But it's happening in Montgomery.

Robin Ficker, the only announced Republican candidate for county executive, is accusing the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce of being a shill for the Democratic Party.

The chamber is sponsoring a debate on Nov. 2 between Silverman and Leggett. Ficker is not invited.

"The Chamber of Commerce is acting like a Democratic club," Ficker said. "They are trying thought control."

Richard Parsons, the chamber's executive director, said Ficker is overreacting.

Parsons said the chamber will be doing a series of debates between now and the election. While the first one is for Democratic primary candidates, future events will include GOP candidates, Parsons said.

"He is just complaining for some headlines," Parsons said.

Lawton's Challenge

Even though the county Democratic Central Committee has selected her to replace John Hurson (D) in the House of Delegates, county cable administrator Jane E. Lawton won't be able to get too comfortable in Annapolis.

Last week, a majority of the 23 voting members of the central committee selected her to represent District 18. But next year, voters in District 18 -- which includes parts of Kensington, Chevy Chase and Silver Spring -- will get their say about who they want to represent them.

Lawton could face several tough challengers, including some of the candidates passed over by the committee last week.

Although she plans to resign as cable administrator, her oversight of cable television service during the administration of County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) could become an issue.

Comcast customers have complained in increasing numbers since the spring about faulty Internet access, canceled appointments and incorrect bills. While Montgomery has generally been regarded as a tough cable regulator, some residents and council members have questioned over the years whether the Duncan administration has been too lenient with Comcast.

Lawton disputes such suggestions. "We have been very tough regulators, and I am very proud of my record here," she said. "We have been as aggressive as we could under federal law."

But Lawton's past ties to Comcast officials could make an easy target for an enterprising opponent.

In 2002, she took a leave of absence as cable administrator to run for the House of Delegates in District 18. During that campaign, she received contributions from several Comcast executives.

Council member Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg), the former executive director of Common Cause Maryland, is urging Lawton to steer clear of cable industry contributions in the future.

"She needs to separate herself from them. She needs to make sure she is not raising funds from the entity she regulated in her role as cable administrator," Andrews said.

Lawton said she plans to heed Andrews's advice.