Sykesville Council to vote on charter revisions Language, mayoral changes proposed

August 24, 1993|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Staff Writer

The Town Council will vote Monday on the first major revisions to the Sykesville charter in nearly 30 years.

Though many of the changes involve semantics -- replacing "councilman" with "council member" -- several could alter the direction of local government.

The new charter makes the mayor a voting member of the council and allows citizens a more active role in municipal government.

"The mayor shall serve as a member of the council, preside at its meetings and shall vote on all questions coming before the council," the new charter states.

Instead of a limited veto power, the mayor would have a vote on ordinances and issues. That change will allow for a more efficient operation, said Mayor Kenneth W. Clark.

"I don't know if this will make the mayor stronger or weaker," he said. "It will be a better way to do business."

Under the present charter, the mayor votes only to break a tie when the six-member council deadlocks on an issue; he has no input on ordinances. Since taking office in May, Mr. Clark has voted once, to break the 3-3 tie on extending Obrecht Road.

"If there was a tie on an ordinance vote, the law would fail," Mr. Clark said. "The present structure does not present a positive way to do business. The mayor can duck the whole issue and doesn't have to take a stand on any controversial issue."

The ability to vote was a critical factor in his decision to run for mayor in May, he said.

"The mayor should be able to express what he believes through a vote," Mr. Clark said. "This should be a participatory government. I want to be active, not a figurehead."

Lloyd R. Helt, who was mayor for three terms prior to Mr. Clark, had also pushed for the change in mayoral powers.

"Sykesville is the only council in the state with an even-numbered council where the mayor does not have a vote," Mr. Helt said.

By allowing for voter referendum and recall of town officials, the charter would also give citizens more power.

"We have had no formal process in place for dissatisfied citizens," Mr. Clark said. "They can come to the Town House and register complaints, but there was little direction after that point."

Town Manager James L. Schumacher said more citizens want involvement in local government.

"If dissatisfied, they don't have to wait four years to vote someone out of office," he said. "They can petition to have any law changed or remove any elected official."

With signatures from 15 percent of voters, the new charter allows for a referendum on controversial issues such as the Obrecht Road extension. With 10 percent of voters' signatures 45 days before a municipal election, questions, such as whether to lease and renovate the Gatehouse, can be added to the ballot.

"The referendum will force the mayor and council to be more responsive to citizens," said Mr. Clark.

Mr. Schumacher said the town attorneys have "expressed concerns" about the mechanics of verifying signatures, scheduling additional elections and providing election judges.

"I am not concerned as long as the initiative is sound," Mr. Schumacher said. "It is not going to happen every time a law is passed. But, if the people want to change the law, that's fine."

With the exception of land annexation amendments, the charter has changed little since its adoption in June 1964. "We have only amended when we have annexed property," said Mr. Schumacher, town manager for eight years. "Many state laws have changed and need to be reflected in the town charter to avoid any conflicts."

The Institute for Government Service, a nonprofit agency affiliated with the University of Maryland, helped the town officials review the charter and the revised draft. The 1993 budget included "a $5,000 cap" on attorney fees for the project.

After 18 months, the new charter is ready for the council's approval.

The mayor said he anticipates no controversy on the recommended revisions. "Much of the document is clean-up wording," Mr. Clark said. "It is still important, the primary document from which we run our government."

Members will meet in a public session to vote on the 55-page document at 7 p.m. Monday in the Town House. Citizens will have an opportunity to comment at the meeting.

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