Manchester's vacant seat points to rift in council

December 12, 1993|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

The standoff over a vacancy on the Manchester Town Council may soon end, but the tensions that caused the deadlock linger, according to local officials.

The remaining council members have split 2-2 in nine attempts to elect a successor to Councilman John A. Riley, who resigned his seat Oct. 12.

In each ballot, Councilwoman Charlotte B. Collett and Councilman Robert C. Kolodziejski were on one side, and on the other were Councilman Douglas E. Myers and Councilwoman Kathryn L. Riley, sister-in-law of former Councilman Riley.

"Right now, it's 2-2, and there's a power struggle," said Mr. Myers, who said he has thought, "Why should we put one of their people in?"

But, he said, "It's over with, come next Tuesday night. . . . If they want to nominate somebody, I'll vote for him, because I'm sick and tired of it."

Mr. Myers predicted the new council member would be one of the three candidates who ran unsuccessfully for the Town Council on May 18.

They are Christopher D'Amario, who received 80 votes; Robin Yingling, who received 71 votes; and Ray Unger, who received 49 votes.

Mr. Myers said he is tired of being "ridiculed in public" at council meetings by audience members heckling him about the vacancy.

Mr. Riley resigned his seat after a Sept. 15 opinion from the state attorney general's office that he could not, under the state constitution, continue to hold the positions of Manchester Town Council member and Hampstead town manager simultaneously.

Mr. Myers said the council deadlock resulted from the way the vacancy came about.

State senator contacted

Mr. Riley's status as a council member came into question after an unidentified person contacted the office of state Sen. Idamae Garrott, a Montgomery Democrat, asking whether state law allows a person to hold two public offices of profit. Ms. Garrott asked the attorney general's office to look into the matter.

"I'm thinking about that [the contact with Ms. Garrott's office] all the time," Mr. Myers said.

County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy Jr., a former mayor of Manchester, said the deadlock persists because the council is divided into two factions, one supporting Town Manager Terry L. Short and the other opposing him.

Mr. Short, hired in July 1992, is the town's first full-time manager.

Mr. Myers said he thinks that someone "sitting at the council desk" contacted Ms. Garrott, and that it had not been him or Mrs. Riley.

The others who sit at the desk are Mayor Earl A. J. "Tim" Warehime Jr., Mr. Kolodziejski, Mrs. Collett and Mr. Short.

Mr. Short said he did not contact Ms. Garrott's office. But he said he wished he could say he had, because his oath of office requires him to defend the state constitution -- as does the oath taken by the council members.

"John Riley was in violation of the state constitution," he said. "It .. was a simple, straightforward thing."

Mrs. Collett said she had been unwilling to vote for any of the candidates nominated by Mrs. Riley and Mr. Myers because she wanted the new council member to come from one of the newer parts of town, such as Whispering Valley, Charmil Drive or Southwestern Avenue.

"Anyone from any one of those areas would have been fine," Mrs. Collett said.

"Most of us sitting up there [on the Town Council] are from the older town, and have been there for years," she said.

Countered Mrs. Riley, "I don't really think that has anything to do with it." She said Whispering Valley has produced past council members.

Mrs. Riley said she had backed former council member Clyde Kreitzer, believing his knowledge of economic development matters would be useful to town government.

Town manager's role

Mrs. Collett said she also believes Mr. Myers and Mrs. Riley do not want to give up any of the council's power to a town manager.

Mr. Short has irritated some people, Mr. Lippy said, but he also "had two strikes against him right from the start" because he represents change.

Mr. Lippy said the council should look at Mr. Short's record objectively when his contract comes up for renewal next spring.

"I think a part of it is changing the structure of government to a town manager structure," said Mr. Short. "It created stresses that take a while to work through."

Of his role, he said, "People are assuming that I'm causing change, and it's not true. . . . Change is going on, and I'm the visible symbol."

"I'm sure my style does rub people the wrong way at times," Mr. Short said, adding, "I get the . . . job done."

Manchester Mayor Earl A.J. "Tim" Warehime Jr. said the vacancy deadlock was caused by change-related stress.

"I feel it's new town vs. old town," the mayor said.

He predicted the problem would ease with time.

Several developments containing hundreds of homes are planned for construction in Manchester.

"If the town grows, which I'm sure it will, the town will outgrow this," he said. "The population of the new will outdistance the population of the old."

Mr. Short said Manchester is considering switching the date of its Town Council election to coincide with county, state and federal general elections.

In the May 1993 Town Council election, only 199 people -- about 15 percent of those registered to vote in Manchester -- cast ballots.

If the town election fell on the same day as the general election, Mr. Short said, the town could expect a higher turnout of newer residents on Election Day.

Even if the council does fill the vacant seat at its meeting Tuesday night, the collective sigh of relief may be short-lived.

Mr. Kolodziejski announced his intent to resign from the council in September, citing lack of time.

He said Friday he had rescinded his resignation after Mayor Warehime asked him to remain on the council until Mr. Riley's situation was resolved.

It is now unclear whether Mr. Kolodziejski intends to remain on the council.

He said Friday that he has not decided what he will do.

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