Former Commissioner Billy Shreve had adopted a system for accessing his county office: His badge admitted him to most areas of Winchester Hall, and he stashed his office key in his county mailbox so he didn't have to tote it around with him.
Then on Dec. 1, his job as county commissioner vanished. And his key along with it.
By the time his replacement key arrived, Shreve was several weeks into his term as a county councilman and had even found himself locked out of his office on one occasion. The experience left him shaking his head about the recent changeover in county leadership.
"I can't believe I'm even dealing with this," he said Friday in a phone interview.
Before the county's government changed shape in December, many onlookers predicted that the new charter system would struggle or thrive based on how effectively the elected officials could communicate. The first county executive and seven-member council would have to work together to figure out how to set up charter government, pass a budget and establish a direction, difficult feats for officials operating at cross purposes.
About a month after it took effect, the new system is running well, its leaders say. County Executive Jan Gardner has instituted an open-door policy for council members and set up regular meetings with Council President Bud Otis and Vice President M.C. Keegan-Ayer, D-District 3. She has offered staff from her office to help the council do legislative research and record keeping. Otis, R-At large, and Gardner, a Democrat, say communication has been plentiful and free-flowing.
But Shreve, R-At large, said the reality of the council's relationship with Gardner stands in sharp contrast to this rosy picture, referencing day-to-day annoyances like parking space assignments and keys that are slow in arriving. He agrees that officials shouldn't be wasting their time with petty issues. However, he said that's the point — difficulty with the small things doesn't bode well for the future.
"She won't even give us parking spaces. Do you really think she wants anyone to have oversight on other decisions she makes?" Shreve said of Gardner.
Shreve's early declaration of discontent with Gardner's management style dismays Otis, who said he wants council members to get off on the right foot with their new county executive.
"I think that when you go on about these types of things, it poisons the well. And then when you have a big issue, it just causes further friction," he said.
Otis and Gardner also said Shreve might be struggling with the adjustment from a commissioner to a charter form of government. As a commissioner, Shreve could direct county employees. Under the new system, Gardner is in charge of county staff, while the council handles legislation and zoning changes.
The council meeting next Tuesday will include a briefing on the roles of officials inside charter government, hopefully clearing up some of the confusion, Gardner said.
Shreve says he's very focused on the new form of government and making sure that the council has the resources needed to fulfill its responsibility as a balance to the county executive. For one thing, the council should have more support staff, he argues. Currently, they're sharing three secretaries among them.
Shreve has suggested hiring a legislative staff person, a liaison to municipal governments and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, a lobbyist to state government, a budget expert and a charter analyst. Only with additional staff support will the council be able to do its job, he said.
"Right now, all the checks and balances are being eliminated," he said.
The council might need a budget expert to help prepare the county's fiscal plan each year, Otis said, adding that they will discuss this issue next Tuesday. Gardner agreed that the council will probably require additional staff support in the future. However, Otis and Gardner said they want to get a better sense of what the council needs before making new hires.
"This is supposed to be more efficient government," Gardner said. "It seems like the majority of the council thinks it makes sense to share some staff at this time."
Councilman Kirby Delauter, who is also a former commissioner, has joined Shreve in concern over parking for elected officials. Gardner has reserved three parking spots at Winchester Hall for council members, since the part-time officials will rarely all turn up simultaneously.
Seven spaces will be available to council members on designated meeting dates, when they are all expected to be present. The county will also pay for the council members to use the parking deck if the Winchester Hall spaces are full.
But Shreve says officials might show up for a board or commission meeting, a discussion with a business executive or another event that isn't necessarily a designated council gathering.
"You're elected to represent the entire county. We should at least have a parking space," he said.
Delauter, R-District 5, has asked Gardner to take parking spaces away from her government affairs liaison and her chief administrative officer and designate them for the council. She has declined to do so, but is working to identify a fourth spot for council members, she said.
And Shreve doesn't know whether to blame Gardner for his missing key, though he insists someone took it from his mailbox. However, he didn't appreciate her email stating that she understood he had lost his key and asking him to pay the $10 fee for a new one, as county policy requires. The councilman fired back that Gardner wasn't getting his point.
"Obviously you didn't take the time to understand the problem. I have been without a key for 21 days and physically had to come to the office today and sit as the phone call was made to have my key made," Shreve responded.
In a phone interview, Gardner reiterated that Shreve had lost his key and declined to pay $10 for a new one. He says he refused to pay because he had asked for two keys and only received one.
Otis said issues like this can be ironed out through communication.
"It doesn't have to be a crisis. The key was not a crisis," he said.
Gardner says Shreve is "welcome to come talk to me whenever he wants," but has not requested a meeting. In addition, Shreve has never requested information that she has refused him, she said.
He acknowledges this to be true but noted that he has urged her to attend Tuesday's council meeting to review the way county government is operating.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.