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Question of three-year term for Havre de Grace mayor will be before city voters in May

Havre de Grace voters have been asked to weigh in on a number of issues facing the city in recent years — purchasing riverfront property along Water Street, increasing the salaries of the mayor and City Council members, seeking bond funding for water and sewer repairs — and they will be able to weigh in again during the May municipal election as to whether the mayor’s term should be extended from two to three years.

The council approved, unanimously, Resolution 2020-02 during its meeting Tuesday evening, which puts the mayoral term question on the ballot for the May 5 city election. Voters can select “yes” or “no” regarding whether the city charter should be amended to extend the term, which would take effect during the next mayoral election in 2021.

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“This will only become effective if you, the residents, agree it should be a three-year term limit,” Council President David Glenn said Tuesday.

Glenn expressed his support for extending the mayor’s term, reiterating points he made last September when the matter came before the council, such as how a three-year term would coincide with the three-year contracts of the city department directors who report to the mayor.

The council president also noted a three-year term for the mayor would not run parallel with the two-year terms of the six council members. Under the current system, the three members sitting on the left-hand side of the dais, as well as the mayor, are up for election during odd-numbered years and the council members on the right-hand side are up during even-numbered years.

With a longer mayoral term, any member of council would have a chance to run for mayor “at some point in time” and keep their current council seat, versus having to give up one’s council seat to run for mayor now, according to Glenn.

Glenn, who will be up for re-election this year along with colleagues James Ringsaker and Casi Boyer, said he supports keeping council terms at two years.

“It’s incumbent upon us to prove that we want to continue our term,” he said. “I think two years is enough time to do that as council people.”

Councilman David Martin also noted that a newly elected mayor inherits the budget crafted by the previous mayor and must work with it for the first year of their term.

“Any future mayor lives with the prior mayor’s budget for the first year,” Martin said. “[It] doesn’t really give him the chance to show what he’s capable of doing.”

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A three-year term gives a new mayor the opportunity to have a budget that is truly theirs for two years, according to Martin.

Mayor William T. Martin, who is not related to Councilman David Martin, gave his thoughts following the council’s unanimous approval of the resolution.

The mayor said city leaders planned to put the question on the ballot during last year’s election. Martin, who ran unopposed, won a third term as mayor, and incumbent council members David Martin, Jason Robertson and Carolyn Zinner all won additional terms.

The mayoral term question was withdrawn from the 2019 ballot, though. Officials determined it would be “self serving” since Mayor Martin would have been re-elected and netted a three-year term had voters approved the ballot question last year.

“We did not want this referendum to be tied with the person running,” Mayor Martin said. “We wanted this referendum to be tied to the idea of, what do you want the chief executive officer of your city to have as a term?”

He said many municipalities in Maryland have a council-manager form of government, in which the council is the legislative body, the city or town manager is the chief executive and the mayor’s role is largely “ceremonial.”

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That is not the case in Havre de Grace, though, as the city charter gives the mayor “a lot of authority, with chief executive officer powers,” Mayor Martin said.

Martin, who started his first term in 2015, said that for a new mayor, “it’s a sprint to try to get your team into place and to live up to the citizens’ expectations that you set when you campaigned to run for that office, and get it all done within two years.”

He urged voters to consider, when they go into a voting booth and consider their options for mayor, “am I giving that person everything they need, including the most precious thing, time,” enough time to accomplish what city residents expect of their mayor.

“If you think that can be done in two years, that’s good,” Martin said. “As a person who’s done it, I think three years is good enough.”

He noted that many jurisdictions, including the City of Aberdeen, Harford County and the state of Maryland, have four-year terms for their elected officials. Bel Air’s town commissioners serve two-year terms.

“If you know what you’re doing [as mayor], you can do it in three years,” Martin said. “Two years is tough — four years, who wants to wait that long to vote for the next mayor, right?”

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