WESTMINSTER - Despite debate on whether the mayor's powers are being stripped, city department heads soon will have a manager who will answer their questions and handle the day-to-day operations of the city.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday to create the position, after hearing five representatives from the six-member task force explain their recommendations for hiring a city manager.
"You owe it to the community and yourselves to hire a city manager," said Carroll Dell, one of six citizens making up the Advisory Task Force Committee on Governmental Administration.
"This is big business," he said, adding that Westminster's annual budget normally reaches $8 million.
The council and Mayor W. Benjamin Brown both have supported hiring a manger, but Brown has fought against a council-controlled position, saying it carries out council's threat last April to strip his limited powers.
Brown promised to veto the ordinance and head a citizen-requested referendum on the issue.
The meeting had a trial-like atmosphere, with Brown and Councilman Mark S. Snyder asking Chairman Russell Sellman questions aimed at drawing answers that supported their respective views.
In response to Snyder's queries, task force members said they were unbiased and felt no pressure to endorse the council's suggestions or the mayor's.
"We did not feel any pressure from the mayor or the council or from anyone," Sellman said. "Any of the recommendations would have been the same if a different mayor or a different council had been in office."
Sellman also said the committee decided the position would be less of a political appointment if the manager reported to the entire council rather than one person, stressing that they all should be willing to cooperate.
The ordinance includes a provision for a $100 fine against the mayor or any council member who disregards the manager and directs the work of city employees. The provision seems aimed at fortifying the manager's authority.
However, after saying the committee sought information from Bel Air, Harford County, since the cities are similar, Sellman said that Bel Air's mayor is actually a council member.
Members could not remember what other cities beside Bowie, Prince George's County, they consulted. Nor did they seem to find it significant that Carroll's other city managers report to the mayors.
"We consulted national and state literature," said Ellen Willis, committee member. "It's not specific to the towns; Westminster is unique."
Citizens expressed concern about whether Westminster could pay the manager's salary, proposed between $39,754 and $61,217.
Another resident supported the mayor's call for a referendum.
"This changes the form of government, and the citizens should have the ability to vote on it," said Gary W. Beard.
All urged the mayor and council to try and work together to benefit the city.
"I would like to see the mayor and council sit down and iron out their differences," said Beard. "You are all men that love the city."
Bill Zepp said, "I would like to see the mayor take his rightful place at the table," referring to how Brown sits in the audience instead of with the council during meetings.
Despite council members saying they would welcome him, Brown said he won't return until the council respects his opinions.