County Council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) ended his term as chairman Tuesday and handed the ceremonial gavel to Vice Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Laurel).

Dernoga replaced Dean as chairman, and council member Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) became vice chairman after an 8 to 0 vote. Council member Thomas R. Hendershot (D-New Carrollton) was absent.

The leadership posts are key to setting the council's agenda, choosing the chairs of the various committees and working with County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). Tuesday's council session was the last of the year. The council takes a winter recess in December.

Dean thanked his colleagues for making up an "awe-inspiring team" that took up 179 bills and resolutions during his year in leadership.

Among the highlights that Dean cited were bills to improve the county's emergency response time standards, prohibit smoking in restaurants and crack down on tow truck operators. He said the council will continue its effort to get rid of illegal strip clubs and nightclubs that do not conform to their use and occupancy permits and to come up with a long-term plan for a county health system.

Dernoga, a council member for nearly four years, said he was pleased to run the "last leg of a relay that started in 2002," when seven of the nine members of the council were elected. He said the council likely will explore the possibility of purchasing prescription drugs from Canada for county employees.

Dernoga won a special election in 2002 to fill a seat vacated by the death of Walter H. "Mike" Maloney. Dernoga was reelected later that year to a four-year term.

Before being elected, Dernoga, a longtime civic activist, held positions in numerous local groups, including the West Laurel Civic Association, the Bond Mill Elementary School PTA and the county's Sierra Club chapter.

The change in power doesn't come as a surprise. It actually was determined before any of the council members were sworn in in 2003. The nine-member council, meeting at a secret dinner after the November election in 2002, came up with a plan that helped former council chairman Peter A. Shapiro secure the votes to hold on to his chairman seat for another year. Under the agreement, it was decided that council member Tony Knotts (D-Temple Hills), who won election with the strong backing of U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn (D-Md.), would become chairman after a year. It was also decided that Dean would follow Knotts, Dernoga would then take over from Dean and Exum would become chairman after Dernoga's year is over.

Hendershot in Hospital

Hendershot did not attend this week's council session because he was scheduled to have surgery Tuesday. Karen Campbell, spokeswoman for the County Council, said yesterday that she did not know why Hendershot was hospitalized or the nature of the surgery.

Hendershot, 61, has had his share of health issues but has recovered from each.

Last year, he underwent coronary bypass surgery. In 1992, he suffered a stroke.

Council Courts Ministers

"The county needs prayer."

That's the short answer Dean gave for why the County Council held its first ecumenical breakfast at Newton White Mansion in Mitchellville this week.

The longer answer, Dean said, is because the council wants to start a dialogue with members of the faith community to address some of the county's ongoing problems, such as the soaring crime rate, the school system's low test scores and the financially troubled hospital system.

"I come from an era where the church is the base of the community," Dean said. "And we have to get these leaders involved in the issues that are important to the county so we can move forward."

County Council members haven't been on the best terms with some pastors in recent years. Some council members have voiced concerns about church buildings, especially mega-churches, using up valuable land that could otherwise be used for office buildings and retail outlets.

Dean said the county's land-use policy was not on the agenda at the breakfast. He also said joining forces with the ministers has nothing to do with the upcoming 2006 election, when eight of the nine council members will run for reelection. Hendershot is serving his second and final term on the council.

"We're bringing them together because clearly there is a need for this, and that has nothing to do with the elections," Dean said.

Rosa Parks Honored

Prince George's joined transit systems across the country last week by honoring civil rights icon Rosa Parks on the 50th anniversary of Parks's refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus to a white man. That defiant move ignited the civil rights movement.

A front seat in every bus in Prince George's County was left vacant last Thursday to honor Parks. On the "reserved" seat rested a placard that read:

"National Transit Tribute

December 1, 2005

Seat dedication in honor of Rosa Parks 1913-2005

Parks died last month, just weeks shy of the anniversary."

Fundraisers Aplenty

You can tell when election time begins to gear up because it's also the time when candidates push to raise money.

Del. Obie Patterson (D-Prince George's) held his 12th annual prayer breakfast last weekend at the Colony South Hotel in Clinton. As usual, the event drew a who's who in county politics.

Word is that Patterson is thinking about taking on Sen. Gloria G. Lawlah (D-Prince George's) for her senate seat. The Rev. C. Anthony Muse, who ran for county executive in 2002, also is considering challenging Lawlah for the seat in the 26th District, which includes Oxon Hill and Fort Washington.

Patterson held his event the day after he attended a fundraiser for Kweisi Mfume. The event, which drew about 40 people, was co-hosted by five members of the Johnson administration -- Sharon Taylor, Lisa McCoy, Donna Wilson, Adrienne Bennett and Aisha Braveboy -- at Woodmore Country Club in Mitchellville.

"It was a comfortable and cozy setting where he was able to speak comfortably about his vision for Maryland and his role in the Senate," Taylor said.

The Patterson and Mfume events were just two of many fundraisers that have been held in the past couple of weeks.

* Hendershot held a $1,000-a-head luncheon at his home in New Carrollton for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D). Hendershot, who is a member of Duncan's finance committee in his race for governor, said the gathering brought in about $20,000 to Duncan's coffers. "I'm going to be helping him raise money throughout the campaign," Hendershot said.

* Rushern L. Baker III, a former state delegate who is mounting a campaign against Jack Johnson for next year, held a fundraiser/comedy show last month at Camelot, the county's newest banquet hall in Upper Marlboro. Baker continues to try to generate interest in his campaign, which likely will face an uphill battle. Baker is the only candidate who has emerged as a possible opponent to Johnson.

* Sen. Ulysses Currie (D-Prince George's) is scheduled to hold a breakfast fundraiser today at Martin's Crosswinds in Greenbelt.