Annapolis alderman gets mixed reaction to new job

Mathew Silverman to take 4-month leave from city council for job training

December 04, 2010|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Annapolis Alderman Mathew Silverman begins four months of training for a new job as a federal agent on Monday, an opportunity that will take him away from the city council for four months.

While Silverman, a county police officer who called the new position with the U.S. Department of Justice his "dream job," has received support and congratulations from Mayor Joshua J. Cohen, at least some members of the city council aren't so sure Silverman's latest career move is in the best interest of the city.

Alderman Ross Arnett said he's "concerned for his constituents."

While the city code doesn't dictate what happens when an alderman is absent from the council for an extended period, leaving Silverman free to pursue a new job, Alderman Richard Israel has asked the city Office of Law to examine state law to determine the proper procedure. Arnett said it's a "possibility" that the Democratic-majority council would attempt to expel the fellow Democrat.

"We're in a very critical time right now with the budget problems we're having and the Market House," said Arnett, a Democrat who represents Eastport. "There's just a lot of things that are going to require attention and I wonder how that can be done with him not being around. Mr. Silverman needs to be talking to the council about why we should consider letting him stay on the council."

Silverman, has represented Ward 5 on the council for 11 months, introducing just a few pieces of legislation by his own count. He maintains that he'll still play an active role during his absence from the city.

"I will work double duty to make sure everything's taken care of," Silverman said Wednesday, the day before he planned to drive to the training facility in Georgia. "The only thing that will be different is I can't vote on any legislation. I'll still be around to answer phone calls. I'm not leaving for four months to go on vacation. I'm going through intense training. And I hope people will look at that as an accomplishment."

Silverman says he let everyone on the council know of his plans well in advance of the public announcement and had the city's legal department review his plans to ensure his absence would not violate any rules.

"I talked to everybody," said Silverman after his 12-hour drive to Georgia on Thursday. "It's not just something I threw on them. Most of the people on the council said, 'Hey, let me know if there's anything I can do for you,' which I appreciate tremendously."

While city law is silent on an alderman's prolonged absence, it makes clear that an alderman must be present at City Council meetings in order to cast votes. Without Silverman's vote, the nine-member council could be deadlocked on issues. Neither side could claim victory on a tied vote.

Silverman says he'll train every day from early in the morning until about 4 p.m. and then will be free to e-mail and talk by phone with constituents and city officials. He said his opinion on issues will be communicated to the full council.

Cohen, who praised Silverman's opportunity as "a real honor … for our city," has promised weekly phone briefings to Silverman and offered city staff to help with constituent services.

"It is a testament to Mat's passion for and experience in public safety that he has been tapped for this opportunity," said Cohen. "My staff and I are committed to assisting Mat in meeting his obligations to his constituents during the demanding four-month training. The advantage of living in the digital age is that Mat will remain available to his constituents and responsive to the issues facing Ward 5 and the city."

Another possible problem facing Silverman are federal work rules on political activity. The Hatch Act, which spells out permitted and prohibited political activities for certain federal employees, prohibits employees from taking political donations, calling into question whether Silverman could run for re-election. Silverman says it would not preclude him from running, but in a "worst-case scenario," he would have to change parties, from a Democrat to an independent, to satisfy the rules.

Silverman, a 31-year-old New Jersey native who has been a county police officer for almost two years, also worked as a U.S. Capitol Police officer for seven years. He holds a master's degree in criminal justice. Silverman said he has reached out to his constituents, through neighborhood groups and various leaders in the community, and has received only positive feedback and encouragement.

"I've only gotten congratulations," he said.

Alderman Kenneth Kirby, whose ward abuts Silverman, said he supports Silverman.

"We're all too happy to help his constituents in his absence," said Kirby.

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