As towns grow, so do manager ranks

January 08, 1995|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Staff Writer

Without full-time mayors, more small towns and cities in Carroll County and throughout the state are leaning on the expertise of town managers.

In Sykesville, James L. Schumacher, the only manager the town has ever had, is resigning after 10 years to start a consulting business offering his experience to other small towns that lack professional staff.

Two other burgeoning Carroll towns, each with about 3,000 residents, have a similar predicament. Manchester, since losing its first manager after less than three years, is searching for a replacement. And Hampstead officials are expecting longtime Manager John Riley to announce his retirement within a few months.

In Prince George's County, the town of Berwyn Heights, population 2,900, has been without a manager for two months. Until the mayor names a replacement, clerk-treasurer Pat C. Barber will be doing the job.

"It's like having two full-time jobs," Ms. Barber said. "We have a municipal police force, our own trash pickup and a lot of other things to manage."

More than 50 of the 155 incorporated cities and towns in Maryland use full-time managers. Those numbers undoubtedly will grow, said James P. Peck, associate director for research with the Maryland Municipal League.

"The movement is toward hiring a full-time individual to oversee day-to-day operations," Mr. Peck said.

The average municipality in Maryland numbers 1,300 residents and tends to function with little or no staff, he said. But as the towns grow and residents demand more services, the need for (( daily management increases.

"I don't know of any county with 3,000 constituents and a $2 million budget that can function without a manager," said Mr. Schumacher, who has given Sykesville until spring to find his replacement.

Mr. Schumacher oversees 17 municipal employees in the town, which has a six-member police force and provides trash and curbside recycling service to residents.

"Municipal governments need to get on the same professional level as the counties. They are one step behind, because the counties have greater needs and a better management voice," Mr. Schumacher said.

A mayor and Town Council govern the town, but the elected officials often lack the planning and managerial background for smooth daily operations, Mr. Schumacher said.

In Westminster, a city of 14,000, the mayor is a physicist. An attorney and several business people fill five City Council seats.

"Each brings something to the city, but managers have the training and expertise that the council lacks," Westminster Mayor Kenneth Yowan said.

Most often, the decision on hiring a manager comes down to economics. With tight budgets, the decision to hire experienced professional staff is often a tough call.

Sykesville Mayor Jonathan S. Herman is against any increase in the 84-cent tax rate, the highest among Carroll's eight municipalities. Yet, he expects difficulty in finding a replacement with the experience of Mr. Schumacher, despite offering a $40,000 salary that is slightly above the average, according to Maryland Municipal League statistics.

"He has a great background in planning and has single-handedly secured state grants to improve the town," said Mayor Herman.

Ten years ago, then-Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. pushed hard for the manager position in Sykesville.

"Without a manager, I would have been a one-term mayor," said Mr. Helt, who held the office for 12 years. "A vote against a manager meant the town was not taking its government seriously. With competition for grants, we need somebody in the Town House who is savvy. We can't expect volunteers to take on that role."

During Mr. Schumacher's tenure, the population of Sykesville has increased by more than 1,000. It could reach 4,500, when all the new and carefully managed development is complete. Mr. Schumacher has suggested shifting some managerial duties to a town planner, building inspector and zoning administrator.

A need for professionals

David A. Schultz, chief of technical assistance for the state Community Assistance Administration, said he encourages towns to hire professional managers.

"These managers save money and find resources for the towns," said Mr. Schultz. "I think it is impossible for any town of 3,000 to manage without a full-time professional."

But some larger towns are doing just that.

Mount Airy, a town of 4,500 with an operating budget of $1.32 million, has resisted hiring a manager.

"I don't want to hire somebody to do my job for me," said Mayor Gerald R. Johnson of Mount Airy, a retiree who frequently devotes 40 hours a week to town business and supervising 15 municipal employees.

The town, which straddles Carroll and Frederick counties, relies on its elected officials to do everything from investigating zoning violations to filling in when the trash truck breaks down.

"The Town Council and I can do the jobs that have to be done," Mr. Johnson said. "Before a person decides to run for office, he knows the responsibilities and job requirements."

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