Constituent service or just meddling? Anne Arundel County: Amendment's defeat won't curtail City Council intrusions.

February 25, 1997

WHILE THE ANNAPOLIS City Council recently willingly ceded some power to the mayor, it wants to continue poking around in day-to-day municipal business. That is fine. The unresolved question, however, is when does this type of meddling become interference?

A proposed charter amendment that would have required council members to contact department heads only through the mayor was a heavy-handed method to deal with a problem that every elected city official faces: Getting around bureaucratic red tape to address routine city business such as filling a pothole or fixing a streetlight.

Under the proposed amendment, council members would have had to go through the mayor if they wanted to give an order to a department head. If they violated this rule, they could be expelled from the council. The measure died last month when its original sponsors decided that amendment would have ceded too much power to the mayor.

The job of the council is to set policy; it is not to run the city. However, council members should have the ability to bring problems and concerns to the attention of professionals. What they don't have is a right to order these city officials on how to run the day-to-day affairs of their departments.

Council members may see themselves as ombudsmen for their constituents, but to city officials who field their calls, they sometimes come across as meddlesome politicos just currying favors with voters. When a council member tells the public works director to repave a street or demands that an abandoned refrigerator get picked up by the end of the day, he may be overstepping his bounds.

The defeat of the recent charter amendment does not mean the issue is settled. Council members are likely to continue to delve into day-to-day administrative affairs if business continues as usual.

Creating an environment in city departments that is responsive to citizen complaints and requests is a better way to deal with the matter. Indeed, if these departments are attentive and respond in a timely fashion, many citizens won't feel the need to call their council members to handle routine housekeeping problems.

Pub Date: 2/25/97

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