Exclude parties, panel suggests

Mayoral term limits, partisan elections seen as unproductive

Title `alderman' survives

January 27, 2002|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

Nonpartisan elections and no mayoral term limit are among the recommendations Annapolis' charter review commission will present to the city council tomorrow night.

The nine-member citizens commission, which mulled over potential changes in the city's form of government for a year, decided against recommending more radical governmental change, such as giving the mayor veto power or creating a city manager position.

Former mayor and commission chairman Richard L. Hillman said the commission instead focused on drawing distinctions in the roles of the mayor, the city administrator and the city council.

The city council would have to introduce and pass the charter commission's recommendations for them to become law. Public testimony is not expected on the recommendations tomorrow.

In recommending nonpartisan elections, Hillman said, commission members imagined what they would do if they had to establish a new municipality from the ground up. When they asked what partisan races contribute to a municipal election, they came up with nothing.

"There is nothing in the national parties' platforms that talk about how to govern a municipality," Hillman said. Partisanship "is an issue that shouldn't be an issue in providing services to the people of Annapolis."

Among Maryland municipalities, Baltimore, Annapolis, Hagerstown and Frederick hold partisan elections. All other municipalities in the state hold nonpartisan elections.

Nonpartisan elections, like those held in Rockville, seem "mature, sophisticated and nonconfrontational," Hillman said.

"Ours is a war," he said, adding that a partisan division in city politics seems to have become more apparent in recent years.

When the commission members began examining the role of the mayor, Hillman, who served as mayor from 1981 to 1985, said they had to focus on the letter of the law, not the personalities of the politicians who have held the position recently.

Although concerns that the mayor did not have enough power to get his or her priorities through led commission members to initially recommend giving the mayor the power to veto council decisions, they chose not to endorse that change after hearing from the public. As mayor, "you can get consensus for proposals if you work at it," Hillman said. "That's the mayor's job: to lead."

Because the mayor serves on the city council, the commission decided that the mayor should not be subject to a term limit since aldermen are not. Term limits are "anti-democratic" because they cut off the electorate's right to re-elect a politician if they choose, Hillman said. In Annapolis, a mayor cannot serve more than two consecutive terms.

The commission also recommended turning the power to hire and fire department heads over to the city administrator, while allowing the mayor to retain the power to hire and fire city administrators without council approval.

"The mayor has a leadership role and a consultative role, but the person making the decisions about potholes being filled should be the city administrator," Hillman said.

Those decisions also are not the responsibility of the aldermen. Noting a "big problem" with aldermen who overstep their legislative bounds, the commission is recommending a provision that would forbid council members from giving direction to city department heads.

"There are aldermen who call up or contact city employees and either directly order them around, or order them around by implication or threat," Hillman said. "There are aldermen who believe their role is to be ward mayors. They are missing their whole responsibility as legislators and in providing oversight."

The commission is also recommending that:

Legislation that goes to a public hearing and is substantially changed should have to go through another public hearing before the council votes on it.

Eligibility for appointment to the Board of Supervisors of Elections be open to members of any political party.

Special elections be held to fill aldermanic or mayoral vacancies, unless the vacancy occurs within 12 months of the next election. Currently, a special election is not held if the vacancy occurs within 15 months of the election.

The city administrator be required to be a member of the professional association for municipal administrators when hired and that he or she be, or quickly become, a city resident.

Future charter review commissions submit their report more quickly than this one, in just in six months.

The commission also decided against changing the title "alderman" for council members to a gender-neutral term, noting the historic use of the title in Annapolis.

At the city council meeting tomorrow, the public will have the opportunity to testify on an ordinance that would overturn the city's voter identification bill. The council will meet at 7 p.m. in the council chamber in City Hall on Duke of Gloucester Street.

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