Aberdeen Switch To Charter Sparks Election Interest

April 19, 1992|By Michael K. Burns | Michael K. Burns,Staff writer

Aberdeen's switch to a new city charter form of government in its centennial year has perked interest in the municipal election May 5.

Two town commissioners are squaring off to become the first publiclyelected mayor of Aberdeen, while eight candidates are competing for two open City Council seats in the non-partisan election.

That's more contenders for Aberdeen public office than have filedin for any election there in the last decade.

"There appears to be more public interest in this campaign, because the people know theyare electing the mayor," said George J. Englesson, who has served ashonorary mayor by vote of the commissioners since 1987.

Running for the mayor's job are Englesson and Ruth Elliott, a town commissioner since 1982.

The two candidates have been at odds over board decisions in recent years. But their campaigns stress their own achievements rather than pointing fingers.

The first cries of foul came at a town commissioners meeting when both mayoral candidates claimed their campaign signs had been torn down. But they declined to blame the other camp.

Elliott, 54, says she is running as an outsider who has opposed the political establishment but has been outvoted. Three council candidates have voiced support for her candidacy.

"Holding the line for the property owner is a primary goal in my plans for Aberdeen," Elliott said. Property taxes make up half the annual budget, she noted.

"We must find additional revenues without taxing to death the property owner," while maintaining essential public services inthe face of cutbacks in state and federal aid, she said.

A retired civilian employee of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Elliott was the firstwomen to be elected as a town commissioner.

She pledged to continue her "open-door" communication with residents in dealing with problems and to push for more effective response from the municipal staff.

Englesson, 66, who has managed the New Ideal Diner in Aberdeen for almost four decades, said he is running as "a consensus builder" able to forge agreement among council members.

His platform focuses on the need for economic development and controlled growth of the city of 13,000 residents.

"The future must be planned development," he said. "We must have a plan for what we want to do as well as what we do not want in our city."

Englesson said he's been keenly interested in city planning, noting his work on the Aberdeen Improvement Meeting, which seeks citizen advice on city policies, and as a co-founder of Citizens for a Better Aberdeen.

Another of his goals is to strengthen Aberdeen's relations with the state and county governments to ensure money is available for local needs, he said.

The change to mayor/council government won't really change much. The Town Council had five commissioners, and the new City Council has four members, plus a voting mayor. Council member pay remains at $5,000 a year, andthe mayor's at $6,000, for the part-time offices.

"(The change) will help to define responsibilities more than anything," Englesson said.

Often the commissioner system resulted in rule by committee, noted Peter Dacey, the full-time Aberdeen administrator. "That's very hard to do in a government as large as Aberdeen's" with some 100 employees, he said.

The mayor will act as liaison between the administrator and the council, hire and fire department heads (with council approval) and propose the budget for the council to vote on.

With no incumbent running for council this year, eight persons have filed for the two open seats.

Two of the candidates for the two-year terms are former town commissioners:

* John A. Feroli, 69, who served from 1966 to 1970, is a retired APG engineer. He says the new councilmust be able to manage with less aid from state and federal government, while ensuring that the surge in residential and business growth is paid for by those who demand city services.

* William C. Benjamin Jr., 73, a retired APG mathematician who owns a store selling fire-fighting equipment, served six years as a commissioner in the 1980s.He was elected for two terms and later appointed to fill an open seat.

The new council needs members with previous experience, he said. He'd work to ensure the east side of the city gets a fair share of municipal improvements and services, he added.

Others running for council:

* Earl Ralph Kelly, 70, a retired APG instructor who formerly ran a contractor business, also believes the needs of the east side residents have been neglected by the council and favors dividing the city into electoral districts to ensure equal representation. Council meetings should provide a more open forum for public participation, he said.

* John M. Bailiff, 51, who owns a barber shop, is making his ninth run for office in 10 years. He proposes having Harford County take over police, sewer and water services in order to save taxpayers money.

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