Hope for a quick political detente in Montgomery County has a hard time lasting past a glimpse into Bruce L. Castor Jr.'s office bathroom.

On the wall next to the toilet hangs the certificate solemnizing Castor's position as a county commissioner - a display the outspoken Republican placed to symbolize his feelings about the top level of Montgomery County government.

"It will remain there," Castor said, "until we regain control of the commission."

Such are relations three months into the power-sharing arrangement that relegates Castor to anything-but-silent fuming from the sidelines while the commission's other two members, Republican James R. Matthews and Democrat Joseph M. Hoeffel, govern in a bipartisan coalition.

The results: Hoeffel's plans for economic and transportation development are moving along, as are a spate of county patronage appointments to Democrats - frequently over third-wheel Castor's objections.

"Jim and I see eye to eye on a lot of these big things," Hoeffel said. "It just developed. I wanted to see bipartisanship. Jim Matthews wanted the same thing. Bruce seemed to want the county run by Bruce."

Each shrugged when told where Castor hangs his county commissioner's certificate.

"He's free to hang stuff wherever he wants to," Hoeffel said. "To interpret everything, as he has been doing, in Republican vs. Democratic terms is not the best way to be productive."

Initial clashes came over filling prominent jobs in a county that employs more than 3,200 people.

In January, Castor lashed out when Hoeffel campaign staffers Jeffrey Albert and James W. Maza were hired to county jobs paying more than $90,000 a year, Albert as full-time deputy solicitor and Maza as part-time deputy chief operating officer. Later that month, unsuccessful Democratic candidates for treasurer and sheriff were appointed as assistants in the county's controller and coroner offices.

"The first thing we did, we hired all the big-shot Democrats we could find," Castor complained.

Matthews countered that the parity between parties meant he had to make some concessions in the name of coalition government. The three commissioners have seats on the salary board with the county controller, who is an elected Democrat.

Albert and Maza, Matthews said, were qualified hires. As a result of his politicking, Matthews said, he was was able to shepherd the appointments of Republicans Barry Miller as solicitor and Stephen Heckman as chief public defender, as well as other hires, through a salary board where the two Democrats' votes are enough to stop any candidate.

"I cannot accept a 2-2 logjam when it comes to staffing substantial positions," Matthews said.

The skirmishes have come to policy matters, too, such as Hoeffel's vision for Montgomery County economic development. It includes a dedicated fund and some consolidation of the five county-affiliated agencies now dealing with economic development. A March 6 vote led to the hiring of a consultant to shape this plan; Castor objected.

That day, Castor railed about a different political situation. Two outgoing county officials in December transferred thousands of dollars from their departments back to the county's general fund, leaving their successors short on cash.

Solicitor Barry Miller's opinion about returning the money asserted commissioners control over agency spending - which, Castor said, enables commissioners control over county entities such as the District Attorney's Office. He complained that "the coming Democratic colossus" wants prosecutors kept manageable.

"The District Attorney's Office is the biggest threat to the Democrats," Castor said, citing the inherent popularity that comes with perpetually "wearing the white hat," as his Republican successor, Risa Vetri Ferman, now does.

The roiling differences that have split the Republican commissioners are also playing out on the party level. Montgomery County Republican Chairman Kenneth E. Davis is stepping down after four years, and Castor and Matthews favor different candidates to replace him.

In party circles, Castor derides Matthews for not "acting like a Republican" in taking Hoeffel's side on the commission, and he is similarly critical of the local Republican leadership's recent record.

"Anybody is an improvement over Ken Davis, who is a complete incompetent," Castor said.

Davis responded that Castor and his public feuding with members of his party made it impossible to keep top-level county Republicans united.

"Bruce Castor has an ego that is pretty much unmanageable," Davis said. "He should've stayed in the District Attorney's Office, where he was a big success."

That Castor was so quickly maneuvered into a corner on the Board of Commissioners is an illustration of his political skills, Davis said.

He said Castor had done "a lot of damage" to the Republican Party in a short time, and suggested that Castor's state-office ambitions might be crippled if he continues to languish as a commissioner without influence.

"When you're the district attorney, you're used to having a lot of people around you saying 'Yes, sir,' " Davis said. "It's a lot different when you have to be a partner. He'll learn that once he gets older."

Castor responded that, at 46, he is happy with his career choices and has "no burning desire" to be a statewide elected official.

"What I am unhappy about," Castor said, "is that the will of the voters was overturned by Commissioner Matthews and his desire to deal with the Democrats."