Westminster to hire a city manager


All five members of the Westminster City Council are displaying a spirit of unity, agreeing with the mayor that the city of 18,000 requires a full-time manager.

That position will likely be filled, at a salary in the $100,000 range, as the council meets to trim next year's budget in a work session tomorrow night.

Last week, the council and mayor sponsored an ordinance to hire a city administrator. They will vote to approve that position at their April 24 meeting.

"No $25-million-a-year business would trust the management of that business to part-time officials," council member Gregory Pecoraro said during last Monday's meeting, referring to the city's annual budget.

Mayor Thomas K. Ferguson has insisted that the part-time mayor and council president will retain executive privilege. A city manager - which Ferguson hopes to hire by midsummer - would oversee Westminster's full-time department heads.

According to Pecoraro, Ferguson goes beyond his job requirements, but that could change with future elections.

"Our current mayor's level of experience is an aberration," Pecoraro said. "That's not always going to be the case. We need to ensure for the city of Westminster that we have that kind of expertise on a daily basis."

When Westminster briefly hired a city manager in 1991, turmoil ensued. The council created the position, usurping control from then-Mayor W. Benjamin Brown. Three months later, after new council members were elected, the position was abolished.

Other neighboring municipalities think they get along fine without a city administrator. Frederick doesn't employ one, though it has a full-time mayor.

Havre de Grace had a city manager, but Mayor David R. Craig abolished that position in 2002.

"The citizens wanted the person in charge to be the one they elected, not an appointed official who they have no control over as a voter," said Craig, who is now the Harford County executive. "I wanted the department heads directly reporting to me. ... They get mixed messages when they have two bosses."

In Westminster, the mayor and Thomas B. Beyard, director of planning and public works, are interviewing three interim candidates for Beyard's position. In mid-June, Beyard will leave for 18 months for a Mideast deployment with the Maryland Army National Guard. Ferguson said a decision should be reached by next week.

"It's not an entry-level job someone just walks into," said Beyard, who has been integral to running Westminster for almost 20 years. "Any person who comes in has to be well-experienced."

City employees will have their eyes toward the salaries being negotiated during tomorrow night's budget work session.

The city has commissioned a pay equity study to determine how staff salaries compare with those of other municipalities and industries. According to Ferguson, preliminary numbers from that study should be in tomorrow, with a final analysis in June.

"There's great expectation for employees, with the pay equity study and other things proposed," Beyard said. "The bottom line is how it all shakes out between now and [tomorrow] night. ... There has to be some priority setting."


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