Fact check: Weakening Annapolis mayor not a new idea

November 19, 2013|By Pamela Wood, The Baltimore Sun

Annapolis Alderman Ross Arnett made a proposal last weekend that made waves from the capital city across the country: to change the city's form of government to give the mayor less power.

Many conservatives — including radio host Rush Limbaugh — criticized Arnett's proposal as a cheap shot from a Democrat trying to steal power from the Republican mayor-elect, Mike Pantelides.

Arnett said that he has been badly misunderstood and that he has supported this idea for years, even during the terms of the past two Democratic mayors. He said he wanted to revisit the idea of changing the form of government no matter who won the election.

"This has been something that I have been working on with other colleagues for years," Arnett said.

A review of Annapolis City Council minutes and news archives shows that Arnett is telling the truth.

For years, Annapolis had a mayor who chaired the city council. A city administrator helped the mayor run the government's operations.

As far back as 2008, when Democrat Ellen Moyer was mayor, Arnett drew up a charter amendment to change the city to a council-manager form of government, in which a more powerful city manager would run day-to-day operations and report to the city council — not the mayor. That would have made the mayor's role more of a ceremonial position.

By 2010, when Democrat Josh Cohen was mayor, the city council finally worked out a change after considering multiple proposals. The council created the new position of city manager who reports to the mayor, though the council can fire the manager without mayoral consent.

Arnett was one of two votes against the legislation. He said he opposed it because it did not go far enough.

"People have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo," Arnett told The Baltimore Sun at the time. "But we need a professional city manager that reports to the council. No mayor wants to give up all that power. That's apparently the opiate of being mayor of Annapolis."

This time around, Arnett acknowledged he miscalculated how the proposal would be perceived. He's been called all manner of insults and said the nasty phone calls got so bad and upset his wife so much that he disconnected their home phone. Some residents have targeted him in a recall petition.

Arnett said he'll hold off on introducing any legislation on the topic and will let the new mayor settle into office first.

"I think people need to settle down and let the transition occur and we'll move forward," he said.

Pantelides said he disagrees with Arnett on this issue, but added that the two talked and are on good terms.



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