Westminster's Day Of Reckoning Is At Hand


May 12, 1991|By Edward H. Shur

"Government of the people, by the people and for the people. . . ."

In President Lincoln's historic Gettysburg Address, delivered in 1863 just north of Carroll County, his strong words talked about the struggle of the nation to endure.

For the last several years, two of our town governments have beenstruggling to endure. The wars between the mayors and councils of Sykesville and Westminster have been hurtful and destructive.

In South Carroll, voters ended their town's fight Tuesday night by decisively ousting the "Gang of Three" -- Charles Mullins, Tim Ferguson and Maxine Wooleyhand -- and electing three newcomers.

No one was more pleased than Mayor Lloyd Helt. The mayor, who cannot break tie votes,often found town business stymied by 3-3 council decisions.

Tuesday night at the Town House, his beaming smile told the story. Words were superfluous.

To the north, his Westminster counterpart, Ben Brown, has been on the losing side of an even more bitter fight since he was elected mayor two years ago. He's been looking forward to tomorrow's election for 730 days.

Brown's hoping two major thorns in his side, incumbent Councilmen Sam Greenholtz and Mark Snyder, will be plucked by the city's voters. The other incumbent whose term is ending, Ken Hornberger, is not running.

While Brown's predecessor, LeRoy Conaway, hadn't always been pleased with his council's decisions, he rarely fought them, at least publicly.

Brown is just the opposite. He came into office to open up government and rein in spending.

But, almost from Day One, it was like an a uneven boxing match -- without the gloves. It was uneven -- like a heavyweight vs. a featherweight -- because the council had a lock on voting power, overriding key mayoral vetoes.

The mayor has been the butt of council jokes, has been cut off from speaking at public meetings, has been asked to resign, has had nearly all of his powers stripped and more. All along, the council has been telling Brown that he's the only one who feels the way he does, that residents support the council.

Last Monday night, the council was taken aback by strong criticism from citizens onits proposal to use $1.6 million in cash for a new or expanded City Hall. While usually only a handful of residents attends meetings, 40 showed up -- and not one supported the council.

It was music to the mayor's ears -- and a tune he hopes will be played again during tomorrow's election. All five challengers oppose the council's plans.

In what appeared to be a last-gasp effort to stem the tide of public opinion, the council set up a phone line -- 848-9000 -- open until 5 p.m. today for residents to comment on the proposed project.

Preliminary results again went against the council, with an even split between people supporting the project and those who either oppose it or want to delay action until a consultant's study is complete. By a 3-to-2 margin, citizens prefer financing any project through bonds instead of spending the cash now.

The council is scheduled to vote tomorrow night on a proposed budget that includes money for expanded city office space.

Interestingly enough, the council's vote will come immediately after the polls close. So at least one (Hornberger) andpossibly three lame ducks will be adopting the budget.

If it includes office space money, Brown will veto the entire budget. If at least one of the two incumbents gets the voters' boot, he will seek to have the newcomers sworn in the next morning so his veto will be upheld.

"I have ample reason to ask the voters for a complete change ingovernment, and I'm very enthusiastic from the response so far," he said. "I would hesitate to take credit for what the voters do if we get three new faces.

"But if Greenholtz and Snyder get re-elected, it'll show the people the things I stood and fought for weren't supported by the people, and I would find that hard to take. While I wouldn't resign, I likely would not run again in 1993."

In about 24 hours, we'll see just who is doing the smiling.

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