County Executive Ike Leggett and County Council Chief Clerk Linda Lauer
When Linda Lauer, then 19, started working for the Montgomery County Council, it was the era of smoke-filled rooms—literally.
One of Lauer’s first assignments was to take dictation from the then-council president, the late Dickran Hovsepian, who would puff on a cigar as he crafted responses to letters from county residents. And, prior to the council’s current committee system, business would be conducted in the “committee of the whole,” as many council members smoked through marathon work sessions.
“It’s a whole different society now—people are appalled to even hear that used to happen,” Lauer, who retired at the beginning of January after nearly 50 years on the council staff, chuckled during a recent phone interview.
Barely a year out of Sherwood High School in Olney—the town where she still resides—Lauer began work at the council building in Rockville in May 1970. It was six months before the county elected its first executive; the sixth, Ike Leggett, will retire at the end of this year. (Prior to 1970, the county was overseen by a manager appointed by the council.)
Lauer saw nearly 50 elected council members come and go. “It stayed new, and it stayed fresh because my bosses always changed,” she replied when asked if she ever thought of leaving. “I may have stayed in the council office for 47 years, but I kept getting new jobs—promotions or new challenges. I called it collecting hats.”
She added, “I think I’ve done every job in the County Council, except for being an elected official and having Steve’s job.” Her reference was to council Administrator Steve Farber, who leaves next month after more than a quarter of a century in his post.
She assumed the title of clerk of the council in 2005, responsible for maintaining the council’s official record and overseeing the process for appointing members to a multitude of boards and commissions within its jurisdiction. But it was more than a decade earlier—1994—when Lauer, at Farber’s request, took on the key responsibility for pulling together the council’s weekly agenda and making sure that its work was accomplished in a timely manner.
“I always liked to describe it as ‘to help them figure out what they have to do—and then figuring out when they have to do it,’ because there are a lot of legal technicalities you have to follow,” said Lauer, who maintained those duties for nearly a quarter of a century until her retirement.
In between, she also worked as part of the council’s staff of legislative analysts—during which she was assigned a portfolio of county departments and offices, with responsibility for assessing the operations of those departments and the proposals that they brought before the council.
When she arrived, Lauer was one of about 20 council aides—a staff that has since more than quadrupled in size. At the time, all council actions were taken down in shorthand and transcribed into detailed minutes, using typewriters.
Lauer played a continuing role in the computerization of council operations—beginning in the 1970s, when she volunteered to help usher in so-called “mag card” electric typewriters as an elemental office computer system. “It was a way for the council to really increase the amount of correspondence, to reach out to people more,” Lauer noted.
She experienced reactions not unlike those of today’s era, when adults often consult their children on use of mobile technology.
“It was fun for me as a youngster back then to watch how difficult it was for people older than me to adjust,” recalled Lauer, now 66 and a grandmother.
Some of the legislative analysts of that era were accustomed to hand-writing their reports, and then giving them to the council’s stenographic staff to type. “When we said, ‘We’re not going to do that anymore, you’re just going to have to [type] on the computer,’ that was a tough adjustment for some people,” she said with a small laugh.
Advancing technology and software eventually allowed the detailed hand-typed records of council proceedings to be replaced by minutes limited to actions in a particular session—supplemented by video of the meeting. The latter was made possible when the council began televising its sessions, not long after expanding from seven to nine members in 1990.
“I think that council members actually benefitted from it,” Lauer observed. “All of a sudden they wanted to comment on everything—because it was being televised. And in order to say something about it, they had to be more educated on each of the issues.”
If Lauer—a student at Montgomery College when she started work for the council—has any regrets, it’s that, amid work and family obligations (she and her husband raised four sons), she was detoured from continuing her formal education.
“I so wanted that degree, and, after working there, I finally figured out what I wanted to be: I wanted to be a planner,” she said. “I love the land use planning aspect of what the council does.”
But, she added: “After a number of years went by, I had gotten enough work experience that I was able to substitute that for my education. I finally reconciled myself to the fact that I just got a different kind of education.
“I feel fulfilled from having that career; I was always honored to serve that institution.”