Royal mess at Annapolis City Hall

June 13, 1994

To witness local politics at their worst, visit Annapolis City Hall, where deliberations on the fiscal 1995 budget have devolved into petty politicking, factionalism and utter confusion.

The eight aldermen are at each other's throats, and Mayor Alfred Hopkins seems incapable of exerting ample influence to build consensus. Ellen Moyer, chairwoman of the City Council's finance committee, walked off the job, saying a "faction" of aldermen was pressuring her to fire certain city staffers. The council's conservative coalition has been hatching its own plan to bring back the mayor's original budget because it more closely resembled its own agenda -- even though the work of reviewing the budget officially belongs to the finance committee. By the end of last week, Mayor Hopkins was so confused he didn't know which version of the budget -- his or the finance committee's -- would be heard at tonight's final public hearing.

If he doesn't know, how are citizens supposed to? They are the big losers here. A week ago, residents attended a hearing on the finance committee's budget, then asked for a week to look it over. But when they show up tonight, they may find the council discussing an entirely different plan, since the conservative aldermen believe they have enough votes to kill the committee's work.

That is too bad, because the committee made some good recommendations, such as restoring Sunday bus service and delaying the purchase of new parking meters to free up money for archaeology and community policing programs. But deep-sixing all of the committee's work smacks more of a political slap than of anything constructive. It is not as though the aldermen intend to pass the mayor's budget as is. Some of them want to keep certain committee ideas. And some of their proposals -- such as eliminating the economic development coordinator -- are missing from the mayor's plan as well as the committee's.

Underlying all this confusion is a leadership vacuum. The mayor, as defined by the city charter, is designed to be weak. As finance chairman, Ms. Moyer clearly lacked the clout of her predecessor, John Hammond, whose decisions the rest of council usually followed. That freed the rest of the council to grapple for influence and press their own agendas. The result has been ugly.

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