Anne Arundel County

Commission proposes changes to Annapolis' charter

An Annapolis commission charged with examining ways to improve the city's governing structure has recommended several changes to the city charter, including making city elections nonpartisan and the creation of an audit committee, according to a draft of its proposals.

The proposed changes, which the seven-member commission is set to formally present to the Annapolis city council next month, also include the creation of deputy department directors and a cash reserve fund. The council, which includes Mayor Joshua J. Cohen, has final authority on any changes.

The mayor and council appointed the members of the Annapolis Charter Revision Commission, which is required to review the city charter every 10 years and make nonbinding recommendations. According to the report, only Baltimore, Annapolis and Frederick, hold partisan elections.

"Political parties would still exist, of course, and could support any candidates they wished, but they would not play an official role in selecting candidates," the commission's report reads. "Political parties, which play a distinctive role nationally and in state governments, have grown exceedingly polarized [and] have very little, if any, relevance to the management and governing of local municipalities like Annapolis."

Alderman Ross Arnett, a Democrat from Eastport, said many of the commission's proposals are unnecessary or already in place. The council has eight Democratic members and one Republican.

Arnett called the idea of nonpartisan elections "intriguing."

"I'm not sure what it gains you and what you lose," he said. "If it's something that would encourage more quality candidates to run, that would be good. But I'm not sure it does that."

If the past is any indication, it's possible that the council will read the report and not do much else. The last three Charter Revision Commissions recommended the city institute a council-manager form of government, a suggestion the council never acted on. In 2010, the city revamped the role of the city administrator.

The commission also recommended that the city align its election cycle with the state or federal government, which the commission says could save the city money and increase voter turnout.

Joe Budge, president of the Ward One Residents Association, said his group is in "general agreement" with the recommendations.

But, Budge cautioned, what results from the recommendations remains to be seen.

"This council and this administration has been a lot more responsive to public input than we've seen in the past," said Budge. "So I think they will take it up. What they will end up doing with it is another question. We shall see."

Michael Fox, chairman of the commission, could not be reached for comment. Nick Berry, the vice chairman, did not return a call.

The commission also rejected several suggestions. Alderman Richard Israel, a Democrat who represents the downtown area, suggested the removal of the mayor from the city council, arguing that the executive's presence on the legislative body flies in the face of the constitutional tenet of separation of powers.

The commission, however, rejected Israel's recommendation, saying that the system is in place in jurisdictions across the country in cities of similar size.

Israel, who has introduced legislation to change the setup, did not return a call seeking comment.