New man in Annapolis City Hall Anne Arundel: Inexperience and Ward 1 war mean John Prehn will have his hands full.

January 03, 1996

IF EXPERIENCE COUNTS, Annapolis' new $60,800-a-year city administrator is in for trouble. He has never held a post remotely resembling the one the city just awarded him. Retired Navy Capt. John Prehn, 71, is a longtime friend of Mayor Alfred Hopkins. By most accounts, that is why he got the job.

The administrator is a crucial position in the current administration; Michael Mallinoff, who recently resigned to become city manager of Newport, R.I., literally ran the government for Mr. Hopkins. Given the mayor's distaste for the nitty-gritty of civic management, Mr. Prehn will have to do the same. One would prefer to see someone with solid government credentials holding this job.

Having said that, Mr. Prehn seems like an intelligent man who acknowledges his limitations and is willing to learn. He knows Annapolis, having lived in the state capital for years and served as president of the Ward One Residents Association.

That last fact would seem to only aggravate the ongoing fight between the Ward One Association and downtown bar and restaurants over how late the taverns should remain open -- except that Mr. Prehn gets good marks from some of the most ardent bar supporters. They describe him as reasonable, fair and a good mediator. Perhaps his background makes him well-suited to broker a truce that has eluded everyone else to this point. It's unfair, though, that responsibility for such a task seems to have fallen in Mr. Prehn's lap.

The city administrator is paid to oversee the daily operation of government, not to be a mini-Kissinger. Leading the city toward peaceful resolution of bitter disputes is the job of elected aldermen and especially the mayor.

Unfortunately, Ward 1 Alderman Louise Hammond, who has fought tirelessly for downtown residents, has made herself such an enemy of bar and restaurant owners that they probably would not listen to her now even if she devised the perfect compromise.

Mr. Hopkins suffers from the opposite problem; he's so reluctant to come down on one side that no one knows where he stands.

Anything Mr. Prehn can do to alleviate downtown tensions will be welcome. Still, he's not the one Annapolitans should hold accountable if troubles persist downtown.

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