For days, an ongoing criminal probe into alleged open-meetings violations has put Montgomery County Commissioners Joseph M. Hoeffel III and James R. Matthews in the political hot seat.

On Tuesday, the prosecutor leading that investigation could have her own set of tricky questions to answer.

Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Vetri Ferman is set to appear before the commissioners with her 2011 budget request that includes a waiver of mandated 5 percent cuts - a proposal Hoeffel says he can no longer consider because of conflicts posed by his status as an investigation target.

Because Ferman did not hand off the inquiry dubbed "Breakfastgate" to an outside agency, she may risk putting her 2011 funding in jeopardy, Hoeffel said Monday.

The conflict of interest the investigation poses for them is too great to ignore, Hoeffel said.

"We're damned if we do, we're damned if we don't," he said, discussing plans to recuse himself from voting on the request as well as that of the county's court system. "If I grant the waiver, I can be accused of trying to curry favor. If I deny the waiver, I can be accused of seeking retribution."

On Dec. 3, Ferman announced that her office was leading a probe into the two commissioners, after a reporter for the Times Herald of Norristown reportedly overheard them deciding county business during weekly breakfasts at an East Norriton diner. Such discussions, as alleged, would constitute a violation of Pennsylvania's Sunshine Law.

Both Hoeffel and Matthews have denied that any improper talk occurred and have cooperated with grand-jury subpoenas of their calendar records.

However, it remains unclear what would happen should Hoeffel and Matthews abstain from voting on these linchpins of the county's law enforcement budget.

As two members of a three-man board, their recusals would leave the body without a quorum for deciding whether to grant the waivers.

Hoeffel theorized, however, that while he couldn't vote on those departments' waiver requests, he could approve the county-created budget proposal, which includes the cuts.

For his part, Matthews said that as of Monday he had no plans to recuse himself from voting but still had questions over whether he could grant Ferman's request as the county struggles to make up a projected $28 million shortfall.

"I'm more than capable of separating the two issues - there's a Grand Canyon between them," he said. "I'm sure there are some morons out there that no matter what I do are going to think my vote has to do with this Breakfastgate nonsense."

But Hoeffel's questioning struck a nerve with some veteran prosecutors.

"How can you be going around asking for a handout at the same time that you're investigating the person you're seeking a handout from?" said Walter "Wally" Phillips Jr., who served as a state-appointed special prosecutor to investigate Philadelphia political and police corruption in the mid-1970s.

Phillips cautioned, however, that he was not familiar with the specifics of the Montgomery County case or passing judgment on Ferman's decisions.

Ferman declined to discuss Monday whether any outside agencies had been contacted or were already involved in the investigation.

She noted that Attorney General Tom Corbett still went before the Pennsylvania Legislature with his budget request for next year despite the ongoing "Bonusgate" investigation into some members of that body.

Contact staff writer Jeremy Roebuck at 610-313-8212 or jroebuck@phillynews.com.