Manchester Puts Its Procedures In Writing

February 24, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

MANCHESTER — Cashing a check, looking up water bills or even applying for a building permit are all pretty routine tasks.

But now the proper procedures have been put down in writing.

The town approved two weeks ago a new check-cashing policy, passed last month a policy on access to public information and has rewritten several town standards and procedures.

The new, clearer rules are the handiwork, principally, of David M. Warner, the former councilman who is the town's $400-a-week projects coordinator.

"They needed somebody with a knowledge of the town and a knowledge of the English language," said Warner, puffing on a cigarette in the town office kitchenette. "The council and mayor are primarily looking at ways to make the day-to-day operations of the town more manageable."

Thereare two ways to change Manchester's rules, Warner said. The most common is by the five-member Town Council passing a new law, which usually takes between one and three months.

The other way -- until now rarer -- is to change the rules administratively. That, Warner said, requires only a single vote of the council and does not need public input or a hearing.

An example is last month's passage of the policyon access to public records. Under discussion in closed session for months, the policy was under review by Town Attorney Charles O. Fisher Jr. before it reached the council for a vote. When it reached the council, it was introduced, debated, voted upon and approved -- all within 10 minutes.

Copies of the new policy were not made available to the press or the public for weeks after passage.

"Municipal governments aren't known for moving too quickly," Warner said. "By doingas many things as we can administratively, we can speed things up a bit."

Warner functions like a town manager. In Westminster, Hampstead, Sykesville and Taneytown, much of the day-to-day operations are handled by appointed managers.

The town has been looking into hiring a full-time manager for more than a year, but the town can't afford one right now. Estimates peg the cost of a manager at between $28,000 and $40,000 in salary, plus $8,400 to $12,000 in benefits.

Warner was hired on a 90-day contract, which calls for $20 an hour for up to20 hours a week. The contract expires April 10; the council is expected to renew it for at least another 90 days.

Much like the passage of the access policy, Warner was hired with minimal public input. The council offered him the position in closed session, which is legal.

Warner said that he spends about 32 hours a week in the town office and that he is nowhere near finished what he set out to do.

Inaddition to the policies passed in recent months, Warner hopes to develop a standards and operations manual for water, sewer and buildingpermit procedures. He also hopes to assist in the preparation of thetown's fiscal 1992 budget, which is expected to top $900,000, and tosimplify town record-keeping and complaint procedures.

"The folksin the office have done a wonderful job with really limited resources," Warner said. "I just hope we can take full advantage of what theyknow to do things better, more efficiently."

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