Montgomery County Executive James P. Gleason and County Councilman Neal Potter took their long-standing feud on the road today, coming here to testify, naturally on opposite sides of a bill that could change the way in which the County Council is elected.
Gleason, a Republican, told the Senate Constitutional and Public Law Committee he favors adoption of a bill that would permit county voters to decide whether the seven-member Council should be elected at large, as it now is, by districts, or by a combination of the two.
The GOP executive, who has had to deal with an entirely Democratic Council since his election in 1970, said the present system, by which all seven Council members are voted on countywide, although five of them must live in specific geographic districts, makes the lawmakers too far removed from their constituents and breeds inactivity.
Electing Council members by districts would allow voters to put pressure on a member responsible for their district, and "the squeaky wheel gets the grease," Gleason said.
Gleason conceded that changing the system might also result in the election of a Republican to the Council.
Democrat Potter said the Republicans feel they could carve out a district upcounty, which he said might not be all bad, for it could help the majority Democrats "solve some of our problems by giving us some place to put the landfills" and other unwanted public projects.
Potter said that "this is not a reform measure. The real issue is whether to put on the ballot (statewide) another constitutional amendment for which there is no demand from those affected." He said country residents are satisfied with a Council whose members all reflect countywide, rather than provincial, concerns.
State Sen. Howard A. Denis, the Republican who introduced this year's version of the bill, said Montgomery voters evidenced concern by approving by a 7-to-1 margin last November a constitutional amendment that would permit Howard County to elect by councilmanic districts.
"It simply makes no sense for the voters of Silver Spring to select the Council members from Damascus and Barnessville, which is what occurs under the present system," said Denis, the senator from Montgomery County.
Denis said it is not a partisan issue, noting that seven members of the county's all-Democratic House delegation supported a similar proposal in a losing 11-to-7 vote on Jan. 17.
Sen. John A. Cade (R-Anne Arundel), a committee member who favors the bills, said, "We're kidding ourselves if you think this (question) will be voted on its merits. If the Montgomery delegation opposes, it will be killed."
Sen. Victor L. Crawford, chairman of the seven-member Montgomery Senate delegation, said only Denis and Democrat Laurence Levitan favor the bill.
Del. Donald B. Robertson, chairman of the county's House delegation, confirmed that, should Denis' measure pass the Senate, "we'll kill it over here. The present system has served us well by giving Council members a countywide perspective." The proposed change would encourage "log-rolling" and selfish interests, Robertson said.