No one runs, someone wins in Templeville

June 20, 1993|By William Thompson | William Thompson,Staff Writer

TEMPLEVILLE -- Harry D. Knotts, the congenial mayor of this bantam-size town, isn't running for re-election this year. But that won't stop voters from handing him his 44th consecutive one-year term when they cast ballots in Tuesday's election.

Keeping Mr. Knotts in office here is almost as much a ritual as spring planting and fall harvesting on the farms surrounding Templeville.

"Will I win?" he asks. "I know I will. You get a job around here, you're stuck with it."

The key to Mr. Knotts' political longevity is the Eastern Shore town's unusual election process. Neither Mr. Knotts nor anyone else serving on the commission ever formally ran for office. In Templeville, there are no official candidates and no one campaigns.

Voters, using small slips of paper, simply write the names of three residents they want to sit on the Town Commission. The paper ballots are dropped into a wooden box, and the three people getting the most votes win.

And for someone like Mr. Knotts, a Templeville native who will turn 81 next month, that means staying in office whether he likes it or not.

"People don't want it, and they know I won't quit," he says matter-of-factly.

"That's the way it is."

Split down the middle by Route 302, Templeville sits smack on the border separating Caroline and Queen Anne's counties. Called Bullock-Town in its early days, the farming community was first incorporated in 1865, although there was a semblance of a village as far back as the late 1700s.

Today, Templeville is a collection of modest frame houses and trailers that line the highway and Bear Pond Road, a small country avenue that locals say goes nowhere near a pond. If a bear lives along the road, no one has seen it.

Not much goes on in Templeville these days, local residents concede. Traffic going to and from nearby Delaware roars through town. Occasionally a driver will stop at Jim and Carol Sarver's deli on the Queen Anne's County side of town. Or at the Sarvers' liquor store across the highway on the Caroline County side. Those are the town's only two businesses.

With its population of about 70 people, Templeville is ranked 149th in a tie with Henderson -- also in Caroline County -- as smallest among the state's 155 incorporated municipalities, according to Jim Peck, a researcher with the Maryland Municipal League.

Most of the town's residents are elderly and living on fixed incomes, says Mr. Knotts. Those who own houses on the Caroline County side are concerned that they won't be able to afford hookup costs when the county puts in a new water and sewer system. There are no such plans on the Queen Anne's side, so Mr. Knotts says no one there is worried.

The town charter was amended in 1948 to stipulate election by write-in ballots only. It is not necessary to file for a seat on the commission and any legal voter can be elected. Although there is no formal title of town mayor -- the commission has a president instead -- Mr. Knotts has been called mayor since he first took office in 1949.

As far as anyone knows, Templeville is the only town in Maryland where such elections are held. "I must say, it is unusual," says the Municipal League's Mr. Peck.

Tax rate recently raised

Until a few weeks ago, the Templeville property tax rate was 35 cents per $100 of assessed value, one of the lowest in the state. The commissioners raised the tax 4 cents -- almost 12 percent -- in order to cover Templeville's three main budget items: electricity for street lights, trash collection and a state-mandated audit of the town's books.

The entire town budget is less than $8,000 annually, including the $25 each of the three commissioners is paid monthly for expenses.

Interest in town government affairs seldom goes beyond a complaint about a loose dog, says Charlotte C. Glanding, who has been a member of the commission for about 10 years.

Besides Mr. Knotts, Mrs. Glanding and Helen Knotts, the mayor's daughter-in-law who was named to the commission after Bernice Coleman died in December, no one shows up at town meetings in Mr. Knotts' living room.

"People are interested in the town, I guess," says Mr. Knotts. "They don't come to the meetings. I ask them to come and they say they trust us."

As head of the town government, Mr. Knotts handles most of the paperwork, which usually means responding to letters from the bigger county and state governments.

That leaves little for the other commissioners to do, according to Mrs. Glanding.

"We have a meeting once a month and we have an election," she says. "That's about all there is to it."

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