Cease-fire, No Truce After Year Of Hostilities Between Mayor, Council

#9 News Story

December 30, 1990|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff writer

The battles between Westminster's Mayor W. Benjamin Brown and the City Council -- which began about two weeks after he took office in June 1989 -- escalated throughout 1990.

The new year's irritations began in February, when -- without consulting the council -- Brown appointed a mayoral task force to study the future of downtown Westminster.

Little was said in the mayor's presence, but Brown often became the object of jokes during meetings he didn't attend due to illness.

Tensions increased as the mayor opposed the council's decision to raise the fees for special zoning exception applications from $500 to $1,000.

Brown maintained that only developers sue the city and cause legal charges, so homeowners should not have to pay the fee.

Although the fee was raised, day-care homeowners, who were particularly upset at the increase, were granted a special fee of $400 if they chose to care for more than six children.

Debates about the budget exacerbated the strain, as Brown first encouraged the council to maintain the tax rate and then recommended lowering it, after property reassessments showed the city would be gathering more income than in the previous fiscal year.

Full-scale conflict was declared after the mayor broke with tradition by releasing budget figures to the press before the public hearing.

Brown said citizens needed time to digest the figures and compare them with the prior year's, while Councilman William F. Haifley responded that budgets are not prereleased to prevent misinterpretation of the numbers.

After a heated argument, in which Council President Kenneth J.

Hornberger gaveled the mayor twice for silence, Brown stormed out and vowed to sit with the audience during meetings.

A flurry of press conferences and meetings -- in which the council accused Brown of "government by press conference" and Brown retorted they conducted "secret government" -- resulted in a council request for the mayor's resignation on April 26.

When Brown refused, the council formed a task force to study the interrelationship of government officials.

The committee suggested that a city manager be hired, but that he report to the council, totally removing the mayor from managing city offices and reducing him to a figurehead.

Brown, who supported the idea of a manager, but wanted the position to report to him, lost that skirmish and vowed to replace Councilmen Hornberger, Mark S. Snyder and Samuel V. Greenholtz during their re-election bids next May.

As yet, there's a cease-fire, but no truce has been declared.

The new city manager will not be chosen until after the new year, and Brown and the council -- although civil in recent months -- still do not share the same table during meetings.

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