A company represented by former Prince George's county executive Winfield Kelly held on to its multimillion dollar cable television franchise yesterday as the County Council, after a dramatic afternoon struggle, overrode a veto by County Executive Lawrence Hogan.
At midday Hogan vetoed both cable awards made last week by the council: one franchise for Kelly's firm, Storer Cable Communications Inc., and one for MetroVision of Prince George's County, Inc., a firm represented by influential local zoning attorney Russell Shipley. Hogan charged that both awards were politically motivated.
The council immediately overrode the MetroVision veto, reaffirming its decision to give that firm the cable business in the southern part of the county.
But an attempt to override the Storer veto failed by one vote. The northern cable franchise was left in limbo for several hours until, at the last minute, council member Frank Casula changed his vote and provided the majority needed to give the award to Storer.
Council chairman Parris Glendening expressed relief that the issue had been resolved. "I think I'm going to get crucified for this," he said, "but I also think I'd rather take the negative publicity on this in the short term rather than have any communities up there without the cable option. That would have been disaster."
Hogan, who has never successfully vetoed a piece of council legislation, was out of the county when the council acted yesterday afternoon. His aides were jubilant when it appeared the Storer veto would stand, but a somber spokesman refused comment later when the council reversed itself.
Democratic state delegates Thomas Mooney and Timothy Maloney said late yesterday that they will lead a citizens' drive to put the cable franchise awards before the voters in a referendum next November.
"This is the sleaziest thing they've ever done," Mooney said of the council's action.
After the vote Kelly echoed Glendening's belief that the important issue for the public would be getting the cable system started.
"When he Casula starts to campaign, he will be able to say: 'I made a difficult decision to bring you cable,' " Kelly said.
Last week Casula voted with the council majority to award the northern franchise to Storer. Yesterday he initially joined council members Sue Mills and Deborah Marshall in voting to back Hogan's veto. Two and a half hours later, however, he asked to change his vote, delivering an impassioned speech on his reluctance to withhold cable from his constituents and his distress at what he termed "harassment" from his colleagues.
"I've never been inconsistent," he said. "I know I supported Storer initially and I did it then because there was no chance of getting MetroVision in the north.
"I'm disturbed to have people harass me," he added haltingly, "and have people make telephone calls to harass me, and say things like, 'Are you interested in running for council from that area next year?' "
Casula would not say specifically who was pressuring him, though he acknowledged that some council members had spoken to him after the first vote on the veto. Asked whether Kelly had pressured or called him, he said, "I'm not going to make any comment on that; that's privileged information."
Kelly denied having spoken to Casula or having asked anyone to call him. But council member Gerard McDonough and Glendening both said they spoke to Casula in an effort to persuade him to change his mind.
"I went in the back room and talked to Frank after the vote, both because he had voted that way for Storer initially and because he had said he would support us when we first went around trying to get things together," said Glendening, who as chairman had to decide whether to attempt to override the executive veto yesterday.
"While I was there I don't think it was harassment but it was a stern talk," Glendening added. "I said: 'The net result of this is I don't think the north is going to have cable for several years, because we're going into an election year, and we've got to take this whole thing through the process again.'
"And I said, 'Frank, the whole thing is going to fall right in your lap. You and I are the only north County Council people up here, and when you get ready to run, are you going to say why we don't have cable?' . . . I can't live with that and I think it's wrong," Glendening said. "I don't care about the company at this point. I'm not going to go back to my people and say we're not going to have cable."