For the past five years, the most Republican Charles C. Feaga could aspire to on the Democratic-controlled County Council was chairman ofthe liquor board.

It is not a job to get puffed up about. The Democrats have been trying to push the council's liquor board responsibilities off on someone else for years.

Feaga -- Republican councilman in the 5th District -- had thoughtthat after four years of servitude under the Democrats and the addition of a second Republican on the council, he might have a shot at the coveted zoning board chairmanship.

No way.

He was again picked last winter to head the Liquor Board.

Monday night, however, everything changed. For what he said was "probably the first and last time," Republican Charles Columbus Feaga was elected chairman of the County Council -- the first of his party ever to hold the position. At least for a night. Or, more accurately, 62 minutes.

Feaga's reign came about because Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and council vice chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, were away on vacation. Whenever a power vacuum like that occurs, the council must elect a new chairman pro-tem.

Monday, newcomer Republican Darrel Drown, R-2nd, moved and Democrat Shane Pendergrass of the 1st District seconded the motion making Feaga the first Republican chairman ever. The vote was unanimous, 3-0.

Eschewing first-night jitters, Feaga conducted the meeting with dispatch, blending parliamentary order with folksy aphorisms he has developed over the years as a native-born Howard County farmer.

When Democrat and former schoolboard member William Manningcame forward to testify about his qualifications as a nominee for the Planning Board -- a nomination the council historically likes to chew up before rejecting -- Feaga treated him warmly.

He addressed Manning affectionately as "Manny" and told him the council has "no questions" because "we all know you so well."

Most council hearings last until at least 11 p.m. One a couple of years ago went until 3 a.m. Feaga was finished by 8:32 p.m.

Asked if she thought the Republicans were railroading the hearing, Pendergrass said, "No, it was justa short agenda. If it had been a long agenda Vernon (Gray) would nothave left town."

Pendergrass called Feaga's brief reign "different, interesting."

Drown, who has sometimes been the subject of Democratic barbs, told Pendergrass afterward, "It's tough being in the minority, isn't it?"

"Are you kidding? I'm always in the minority," she said. "One woman among four men."

For his part, Drown said it "felt real natural" to be in the majority. He said he and Feaga were "just practicing for what happens next time" after the 1994 elections.

Meanwhile, he told Feaga the two of them should hurry up and rearrange the council office while they had the chance.

"You must be dreaming," Feaga replied.

"Railroading or not, we got done in timeand nobody complained," Drown said. "It was fun while it lasted."

Feaga downplayed his moment in the limelight. "It was no different from any other night," he said. "You just have to pay a little more attention."

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