Mayoral debate heats up once more

January 22, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

Sparks are flying again in a debate that has bedeviled Annapolis government officials for decades. Should the city's 1708 charter be changed to give the mayor greater power over the affairs of the town?

The debate, which dates back at least to 1965, surfaced about a month ago during Salary Review Commission meetings when several aldermen complained that the current "weak mayor" system leaves the city government adrift.

Previous efforts to change the scope of the mayor's power ended in defeat, but this move appears to have more strength. Last month, the city council agreed to set up a committee to investigate changes to the city charter that could lead to a strong-mayor or city-manager form of government.

Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins has not appointed the members of that committee yet.

In addition, the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a study of the strong-mayor format and is expected to release its results in the next three or four months.

In the minutes of the salary commission meetings, made public this week, several aldermen suggested that Annapolis should abandon the weak-mayor form of government.

Under the system, the mayor presides at City Council meetings, but has only one vote on the council and little additional authority to run the city.

Under the strong-mayor system, the mayor does not have a seat on the council, but can veto legislation and has greater authority over city departments.

The city-manager form of government delegates the mayor's administrative duties to a manager and turns the mayor's job into a largely ceremonial one.

Either change would require an amendment to the city charter, a centuries-old tome bound in crushed red velvet and tinkered with sparingly over the years.

Some say the debate is a thinly veiled attack on Mr. Hopkins' administration by critics who complain that the mayor has allowed too much power to rest in the hands of City Administrator Michael D. Mallinoff.

Brad Davidson, one of the Salary Review Commission members, said complaints arose during the meetings.

"The sentiment among some council members was that the current mayor isn't as forceful or as dynamic as those who preceded him," Mr. Davidson said. "Or the sense that nobody down there can make a decision."

Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Mallinoff refute the charge with a list of the administration's achievements. Since 1990, the city has secured its highest bond rating in years, Gotts Court parking garage was built, State Circle was rebricked, plans were approved for the reconstruction of Main Street and the city has a $10 million budget surplus.

Mr. Hopkins, who has been on the city council for 33 years, said he never suffered from the limits on the mayor's office because of his experience.

But he said the city would do well to have a non-elected city manager to administer its business.

"The city government is becoming more and more specialized, and no mayor is going to be experienced and educated in all those departments," he said in an interview last week. "You cannot have a mayor having only one vote. It cannot continue to work the way it is."

But some former mayors reject that argument and say there is no need for additional power at City Hall.

"If you can't get a majority on that city council, then you might as well be the dog-catcher of Annapolis, not the mayor," said Dennis Callahan, a one-term mayor who lost overwhelmingly to Mr. Hopkins in his 1989 re-election bid.

Mr. Callahan said he didn't think Annapolis residents want a strong city leader, but a friendly face in the mayor's office.

"What they all want is someone who went to Green Street Elementary School with them," he said. "They're living in a dream world. They all just want to go home and watch 'Father Knows Best.' "

Roger W. "Pip" Moyer, who was mayor from 1965 to 1973, said he never craved more authority and argued that any politician with a forceful personality can thrive in the mayor's office.

"There's a lot of appointment power in that office, and a lot of things you can get done with good old American politics," he said.

Mr. Moyer said he thinks the debate is being launched by ambitious city council members who have their eye on the mayor's office and want to increase its power before they get there.

"A lot of what's going on now is angling for position by people who want the mayor's job," Mr. Moyer said. "He's got the toughest council I've seen."

But council members say they are interested only in making the city government more efficient and note that the county, state and federal governments all invest their top elected official with far more sweeping powers.

According to the Maryland Municipal League, 40 percent of all U.S. cities have adopted a city-manager form of government. In Maryland, communities using the system range from in size from La Plata, population 1,600, to Rockville, population 40,000. Major cities, such as Baltimore, have strong mayors.

But Annapolis remains married to an outdated formula of government, several alderman have complained.

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