A Better Way to Govern Annapolis?

November 30, 1994

Who's in charge of Annapolis city government?

The affable Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins? He hires his staff and appoints committees, but he frequently says that he's only one vote on the City Council and can't be blamed for everything that happens.

How about his administrator, Michael Mallinoff? Mr. Mallinoff is an intelligent and capable man, who advises the mayor and oversees some of the city's routine operations. But he has no power to fire or reprimand city workers or hold them accountable.

Maybe the City Council? The eight contentious aldermen can set policy, but they have no power to implement it.

Now the City Council has formed a committee to study alternative ways to govern. One option would be a council-manager arrangement, which would strip the mayor of his administrative powers and put the authority in the hands of the council, which would then appoint a professional manager. This system is supposed to leave policy-making to the council and scrub politics from the equation by placing a non-partisan manager in charge of city operations. More than 3,000 communities in the United States use this form of government, including Rockville and LaPlata in Maryland, but honest observers admit that managers do set policy and do play politics. The drawback of this system is obvious: Major decisions are made by a person who is not accountable to the voters.

The other option being considered for Annapolis is a strong-mayor form of government. This would function somewhat like Anne Arundel County government, which divides power between the county executive and the County Council. An elected mayor would be in charge of overseeing the government staff and could veto actions of the council. One drawback is that this person may play to political interests rather than public interests.

Almost everyone in Annapolis agrees the current weak-mayor system isn't working, however. City Hall is a loosely run operation with department heads doing as they please and working when they feel like it. The vacuum of leadership becomes painfully evident during crises such as the furor over the Main Street reconstruction.

Voters will have to decide any change in government, but we welcome the efforts to try to find a more effective way to run Maryland's capital city.

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