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Havre de Grace council will consider expanding mayor’s powers, postponing election, at April 20 meeting

On Monday, the Havre de Grace City Council will hold its first meeting since mid-March, when the novel coronavirus pandemic began taking hold in Maryland and the state government began issuing multiple orders regarding social distancing and the size of public gatherings.

The meeting, which will be live-streamed via the City of Havre de Grace Facebook page and YouTube channel, begins at 7 p.m. and includes a public hearing on a proposed city charter amendment. The mayor and six-member council will gather for the meeting in the council chambers in City Hall at 711 Pennington Ave.

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Residents will be able to offer public comments either before the meeting or in person in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

The charter amendment applies to the mayor’s powers during a state of emergency, giving the mayor the authority to “issue executive orders suspending certain enumerated Charter deadlines and time requirements on a temporary basis,” according to a notice posted on the city website.

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“This will give me lateral authority to operate the city and do what’s necessary while we are under a state of emergency — and only under a state of emergency," Mayor William T. Martin said Wednesday.

The council also will consider Monday a resolution to postpone the municipal election currently scheduled for May 5. Four candidates, including the three incumbents, are running for the seats held by Council President David Glenn and council members Casi Boyer and James Ringsaker. Challenger Richard Wehner Sr. also is running for council.

A measure to amend the city charter to allow the mayoral term be extended from two years to three, starting with the 2021 election, will also be on the ballot.

The election would happen 60 days after the state of emergency declared by Gov. Larry Hogan is lifted. The council also must approve ways to ensure the election is safe and avoid any potential spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, such as drive-up or mail-in voting, according to Martin.

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“The council is just authorizing flexibility to my office to execute the election the best way we can, as soon as we can,” the mayor said.

Public comment

People who want to testify during the public hearing can submit comments in writing before noon on Monday to Resa Laird, the mayor’s executive assistant. Laird can be reached by phone at 410-939-1800, extension 1138, or email at Resal@havredegracemd.com.

People testifying in person must be at City Hall before 7 p.m. and remain in their vehicles until a city staffer advises them on social distancing and lets them in. People must depart from City Hall once they have given their testimony, according to the public notice.

Attendance in the council chamber will be limited to 10 people, including the mayor and council members, plus a one-person camera crew. People can testify one at a time, and department heads will be in their offices if there are questions from the public, answered either by teleconference or coming into the council chamber, according to the mayor.

“We’re not restricting the public from actually speaking to their elected officials,” Martin said. “They can do it, but just one at a time.”

There also will be time during the council meeting for public comment regarding items on the agenda. The traditional second period for public comment, on any matter of city business, at the end of the meeting will not happen as officials have trimmed Monday’s agenda to “pretty much business only,” the mayor said.

People can comment on agenda items in person, with the same procedure as the public hearing. A staffer will be at the front entrance to City Hall and will let people in one at a time when the comment period starts, according to Martin.

The mayor noted that he will read into the record each public comment submitted ahead of time “so the citizen knows their legislators heard their question.”

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