Town Of Aberdeen Residents Face Decision Of Becoming City

November 24, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Q: What makes a town a city?

A: An elected mayor and council, andpower to raise money for public works.

Aberdeen would have all three under a charter amendment that willbe introduced at the Board of Commissioners meeting tomorrow night.

As Aberdeen prepares to celebrate its centennial year, its leaderssupport scrapping the entire chapter of the Maryland code under the heading "The Commissioners of Aberdeen."

In place of the five commissioners and an honorary president promoted from their ranks, they propose a four-member city council and a mayor elected directly by thepeople.

"There are a lot of positive things happening in Aberdeenand we think it's time for an elected mayor," said first-term Commissioner Macon L. Tucker Jr., who helped draft the amendment.

The proposal, unveiled Oct. 14 by a 3-year-old citizen's committee, would give town residents a mayor/council system similar to Havre de Grace.

Town administrator Peter Dacey supports the proposal. He said a town with 100 employees demands a system with a stronger executive who can carry out the directions of its legislature.

"Wherever you areworking in an establishment -- in a government or anywhere -- there must be someone at the top who oversees everything, so you can take aposition to one individual instead of four or five," said five-term Commissioner Ruth Elliott, who also served on the drafting committee.

If passed, the charter amendment would change the community of 13,000 people from the "Town of Aberdeen" to the "City of Aberdeen."

Much of the measure concerns relatively cosmetic changes. Supporterssaid the town's daily routine will alter only slightly.

As Dacey explains it, he already relies on commission president George Englesson as his means of communication with the five-member board. The charter change would simply codify that relationship.

A new power thatwould fall to the mayor would be appointment and dismissal of department heads -- but only with council approval.

The mayor would alsopropose the city budget but the council would have final say on the spending package.

The new charter would also provide for voters toadvance legislation through referendums. That's a power currently denied to voters, except in the case of charter amendments.

If the commission adopts the proposed amendment, anyone opposed would have togather signatures from 20 percent of the town's registered voters within 40 days to petition for a referendum on the ballot next May.

Another important provision of the charter would grant the council power to create special assessment districts to raise money for public works projects.

The town's $6-million operating budget is supported by property taxes and sewer and water fees.

But when the commission approved extension of sewer service to the southern portion of U.S. 40, it imposed a special assessment on properties there.

The charter amendment would allow the council to create new assessment districts to pay for other, large-scale construction projects.

"Whether you have a mayorship-type government or a commissioner type, it's done the same," said Elliott.

The major change in the commission/council would be reducing its members to four.

The citizen panel last month suggested an alternative: increase the council to six.

Such an expansion could have inspired greater political competition and responded to criticism that surfaced in the last election that the Aberdeen commissioners suffer from a lack of new blood.

Elliott scoffed at the suggestion that one more seat would guarantee more open government.

"If you can't do it with four, you're not going to do itwith five," she said.

A four-seat council would also save $5,000 in salary for a fifth member. Both the council and mayor would continue serving part time at the same salary.

"We wanted to keep it basically the same," Elliott said. "If you have a tie vote, the mayor would break the tie, just as we have now."

Tucker said a four-membercouncil could make electing a minority more difficult but he added that it should not be an issue.

"That topic has not been brought upfor some time. The way I look at it, I serve the whole town," said Tucker, football coach at Aberdeen High School. "If I'm (not reelected), it means I'm not doing a good job."

The commissioners will accept comments from the public after the charter amendment is introducedtomorrow night. At least one more hearing is scheduled Dec. 9 beforea vote.

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