Democrats prepare to take choice council jobs


County Councilman Charles C. Feaga is finding that, like war, politics is hell.

In seven years on a council dominated by Democrats, he has learned first hand what fellow council Republican Darrel Drown of the 2nd District calls the political golden rule -- "them with the gold, rule."

The rule for Mr. Drown and Mr. Feaga is that the Democrats decide each December who will hold what office on the council. They elect themselves to the offices they want and elect Republicans to the offices they don't want.

This Monday, for example, Democrats will hold onto the council chairmanship and the Zoning Board chairmanship.

Although they won't comment individually on Monday night's election, council members say the Democrats will elect C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, to succeed council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, as council head and elect Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, to succeed Mr. Gray as chairman of the Zoning Board.

Council members also say the Democrats have agreed to let the Republicans retain chairmanship of the Liquor Board.

Mr. Drown and Mr. Feaga say they have not yet decided which of them will hold the office. Mr. Drown holds it now.

Meanwhile, the council is again planning to ask permission from the General Assembly to surrender its Liquor Board responsibilities and create an appointed board in its place.

What is different this year is that the Democrats plan to claim a post for Ms. Pendergrass that they shunned last year and gave to Mr. Feaga -- council representative to the Maryland Association of Counties. The association is now holding its winter meeting at Solomons Island.

The job of association representative is obscure and time-consuming. Representatives meet every Wednesday in Annapolis when the state legislature is in session. They review the General Assembly's legislative agenda, and they take positions and lobby legislators on legislation affecting counties.

For the gregarious Mr. Feaga, the job had become fun.

He was stunned when Democrats told him his term as association representative would not be renewed. He had thought friendship would prevail over politics and allow him to stay on.

Democrats want the job now, he was told, because Ms. Pendergrass will seek election to the General Assembly next year instead of a third term on the council. Serving as council representative to the association will help Ms. Pendergrass establish and renew statewide contacts, Mr. Feaga was told.

"He's had it for two years," Ms. Pendergrass said. "I was representative the first year, and I would like to be again. I am concerned about county issues and state issues and how they work together. The county is very dependent on the state."

Although she said it is her policy not to discuss coming council elections until after the vote, Ms. Pendergrass said the Maryland Association of Counties situation was different because the association had asked for names prior to Monday night's vote.

"He thinks he only served one year, and he bit my head off when he discovered that I was correct and he served two. I'm sorry he's not happy," Ms. Pendergrass said.

"They think it will be a chance for her to make contacts," said Mr. Feaga, "but [the association] is for council members and county commissioners, not [state] legislators."

Representatives do meet people from all over the state, but they are county officials rather than state officials and they talk about local problems and compare local strategies, he said.

"You get a chance to see what each county is doing with their budget and what money they're getting from the state."

A farmer by trade, Mr. Feaga says he finds himself at home with other association representatives, most of whom come from the state's rural counties. Each county has only one vote regardless of population --meaning the smaller counties have just as much power as the larger ones.

"All and all [the association] is a fairly conservative group," he said. "It takes a year or two to blend into the organization and become effective."

Mr. Feaga said he will be asking representatives from other counties attending the meeting to lobby Mr. Gray and Mr. Farragut on his behalf.

"It was not courteous of a Democratic majority to absolutely blank the Republicans out" from serving as representative to the association, he said.

"It probably sounds like whining, but there is not much give and take where Democrats are concerned," he said.

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