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City of Aberdeen considering a change to ‘strong mayor’ form of government, other changes to its charter

Though Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady was unanimously approved to stay acting city manager for another 180 days at a Monday work session of the city council, the full-time position he is filling in for might not be around much longer as Aberdeen officials considers changes to the city’s form of government.

Council members are ruminating on dropping the position of city manager and shifting to a “strong mayor” system, where the mayor acts as the city’s chief executive.

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The neighboring City of Havre de Grace is an example of a strong mayor form of government.

A mayor acting as the city’s executive would mean they would appoint heads of departments with council approval, draft a budget and only vote to break ties among the city council, according to notes from a previous meeting. Currently, the mayor votes along with the city council on normal legislative business.

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Changes are notional at this point, and the city council will not make a decision without input from citizens, McGrady said. The council agreed to present their desires to city attorney Frederick Sussman and have him create a draft to accomplish what they want instead of specifying areas of the charter to change.

“These are all drafts. It’s discussion; it’s for input from the public; it’s for deliberation,” McGrady said Monday. “We can always just bail on it and keep going the way we are going.”

Councilman Jason Kolligs said he was largely in agreement with the proposed changes, but that he adamantly opposed paying elected officials a substantial amount of money when the idea of a pay raise for the mayor was brought up. Kolligs said his biggest worry was money motivating candidates to run for mayor.

“As soon as we make the elected position something everybody wants because of good health insurance, because of good pay and everything else, it turns into a circus,” he said in an interview. “We’re going to get the person who campaigned the hardest.”

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The council agreed to put in $20,000 as a placeholder salary for the mayor — up from around $16,000 — for drafting purposes. It is also possible, Councilman Tim Lindecamp said, that a strong mayor could hire a city administrator to handle more day-to-day, full-time operations and would not need to do work befitting a city executive’s salary. Some city managers are paid six-figures, he said by way of example.

Other changes to the charter were discussed at Monday’s meeting, including introducing ranked-choice voting and staggering terms of councilmembers. Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said that she felt the mayor should need at least 51% of votes to be elected, which is not currently required under the city’s charter. That could be accomplished by a preliminary or runoff election, she said, or ranked choice voting.

Ranked choice voting means voters would rank candidates by preference, submitting ballots not only for their first choice, but also their second, third and further down the line choices. New York City voted to adopt ranked choice voting in 2019, and some advocates have said it can prevent election campaigns from becoming increasingly polarized.

The council also debated expanding or shrinking the size of the five-member body by one, but that issue was left up in the air. Also discussed was giving the mayor the ability to veto legislation, with an undetermined number of the council required to override it, depending on the final size of the council.

Aberdeen’s most recent city manager, Randy Robertson, announced he would leave the job in December to take similar position in Dover, Delaware. Since then, McGrady has pulled double-duty, serving as the acting city manager and sitting on the city council as mayor.

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