Next mayor may look to manager

Some candidates say they would hire city administrator

June 24, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore voters casting ballots for mayoral candidates in the fall might not be electing the person who will run the city.

Three mayoral candidates say that if elected they would hire an administrator to handle the daily operation of city government.

The proposal is being pushed by candidates such as Council President Lawrence A. Bell III and former East Baltimore Councilman Carl Stokes. It is a growing trend among local governments. Across the country, 676 mayors supervise city administrators.

"Cities are wising up," said Michele Frisby, a spokeswoman for the International City and County Managers Association (ICMA) in Washington. "They're realizing that their mayors can't handle it all."

Stokes, also a former school board member, contends that hiring a city administrator would free the mayor to be more of a leader, coordinating exchanges between government agencies and city businesses.

"Interagency coordination is pretty lousy in Baltimore City," Stokes said. "A big role of the mayor is to cheerlead for the city. The mayor must be on the street and accessible."

This week, Bell said he supports the city administrator structure. Bell based his backing on a recent trip to Atlanta, which operates with a mayor and chief administrative officer. Under the Bell plan, Baltimore would have a chief operating officer and chief financial officer.

"I believe that a good manager knows how to delegate," Bell said. "I know my strengths and I know where I need support."

In addition to dealing with a $153 million budget deficit over the next four years, the new mayor will have to find ways to lower the city's homicide rate, reduce the rate of drug addiction and curb an unemployment rate double the national average.

Groups such as ICMA and the National League of Cities urge cities to hire managers with degrees in public administration. Several large cities, such as New York, employ deputy mayors specializing in various tasks.

"Part of being a good leader is having good staff to deal with the issues," said Randy Arndt, a spokesman for the National League of Cities. "If you want to do the job right, you have to have some front-line administrators."

State Del. Tony E. Fulton of Baltimore introduced legislation that would have required the city to hire an administrator, but the measure failed in the General Assembly.

Several mayoral candidates oppose the move, saying it would create another level of bureaucracy. Northeast City Councilman Martin O'Malley contends that it is the mayor's job to run the city and hire the right Cabinet directors.

"If I'm the mayor," said O'Malley, who declared his mayoral bid Tuesday, "the buck stops here."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke also questions the idea. During his 12-year tenure, the suggestion of hiring a city administrator has surfaced, Schmoke said.

"Does it mean establishing a new bureaucracy?" Schmoke said. "Does it mean allocating current resources? And there is always the big question, how much is it going to cost?"

Mayoral candidate A. Robert Kaufman said he doesn't see the point of a mayor hiring a city administrator and accuses Bell and Stokes of trying to appease those questioning their leadership capabilities.

"You're electing somebody to hire somebody," Kaufman said.

Kaufman supports a city administrator who would answer to the 19-member City Council. That would reduce the ability of city power brokers to control government, he said.

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