Manchester Council's Power Play CARROLL COUNTY

September 16, 1993

The town council in Manchester is prepared to jettison an important notion in American democracy -- the system of checks and balances. By a 3-1 vote, with Councilwoman Charlotte Collett absent, the council this week approved an amendment to Manchester's charter that would strip from the mayor the power to hire and fire the appointed town manager and hand it to the council.

Manchester residents have 40 days to petition to bring the proposed change to a referendum vote or it takes effect. In the meantime, council members ought to carefully ponder the consequences of their action.

If passed, the town's balance of power would be skewed toward the council. The mayor, the elected executive, would have no say in the hiring of the town's full-time administrator. What's more, the proposed revision would prohibit the town manager from addressing the council at meetings without its permission.

Under the current charter, the town manager has to answer to a much larger group and is not obligated to one branch of government. Currently, the mayor appoints the manager, but must receive council approval. The town manager can be fired by the mayor, but only with approval from a majority of the council. If the council wants to fire the town manager over the wishes of the mayor, four of the five members must approve.

The council would seem to have ample enough leverage under the present system. But three council members -- John Riley, Kathryn Riley and Doug Myers -- want to fire current manager Terry Short. With implausibly straight faces, they deny that their unhappiness with Mr. Short's performance is the reason for all this, even though the fact remains that they can't fire him under the current charter but could under this slap-dash change.

If, in fact, the council wants to fire Mr. Short, it only has to wait for fellow council member Robert Kolodziejski's resignation to take effect next month. The majority then has the authority to vote in his replacement, which would give them the four votes $l necessary to fire Mr. Short.

Rather than destroy a careful system of checks and balances, the voters of Manchester ought to demand the proposed change be held for a referendum and they should refuse to give three council members such extraordinary powers.

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