Proposed changes to Aberdeen's city charter, which if approved would transfer the majority of the mayor's administrative powers to the city manager, are being driven by frustration expressed by municipal employees and department heads about to whom they report, according to City Council members who support the charter changes.

"We have two chiefs, and the Indians don't know who they're supposed to follow," Councilman Tim Lindecamp said during a recent work session on the charter amendment.

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City officials got through about half of the amendment before the end of the nearly 90-minute work session on April 13. The remainder of the document will be reviewed during a second session Thursday at City Hall.

Lindecamp, along with council members Sandra Landbeck and Melvin Taylor, is sponsoring Charter Amendment Resolution 17-CR-01.

The amendment can be adopted by a simple majority vote by three of five council members — Aberdeen's mayor gets a vote on legislation before the four-person City Council.

The intent is to "reallocate certain powers, duties and responsibilities" of the mayor, council and city manager "in order to provide for what is commonly referred to as a Council-Manager form of government," according to the resolution.

The city adopted that form of government, in which the city manager is the chief executive of the municipal government and reports to the council, in 1992, and those duties are laid out in the city code.

The supporters of the amendment want to bring the charter in line with the code.

Council members and Mayor Patrick McGrady, who has described the changes as "politically motivated," went through the amendment line by line. They also reviewed amendments to that document that have been proposed by Lindecamp and Landbeck.

City Manager Randy Robertson, who has been on the job less than a year, and City Clerk Monica Correll were also present. Ruth Ann Young, a former council member, was in the audience.

The discussion became heated at times when McGrady questioned the reasoning behind the charter amendment.

The charter in its current form gives the mayor powers such as preparing and presenting the annual budget to the council, appointing members of boards and commissions and directing the city manager regarding the "day-to-day priorities of the City."

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At the end of the night, the mayor and city council members delayed voting on the resolution until Councilmembers Tim Lindecamp and Sandra Landbeck can incorporate their proposed amendments and the rest of the council has time to look at them.

The amendment, however, would remove those powers and make the mayor "head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes."

Landbeck said she met with directors and supervisors in city agencies the week before and heard a number of concerns about a lack of vision among city leaders and thus no direction on what priorities they should follow and from who they should take orders, the mayor or the city manager.

"They don't feel we trust them," Landbeck said.

She noted department heads are preparing their budgets, and they must know how to allocate staff and money based on "priority projects."

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"They said, 'We just need to have somebody be our boss; we need a vision,' and those were really the big things," Landbeck summarized.

Council members also noted City Attorney Fred Sussman had expressed concerns about the wording of the mayor and city manager's powers in the charter related to the form of government adopted 25 years ago.

"It's always been wrong," Landbeck said. "It was wrong from 1992."

Landbeck surmised the charter has not been updated "probably because mayors have egos and they like to be in charge, and it's hard to give that up."

"I think we can amend it so the two of you have shared executive [authority]," Landbeck said of McGrady and Robertson.

McGrady disagreed.

"I think there's a challenge when there's shared authority," he said.

Much of the discussion centered on the duties of the mayor, city manager and city council during the budget process.

McGrady said he likes to "hang the budget on somebody's neck," and that person should be an elected leader, not the city manager, who is appointed by the mayor.

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"You can beat on me . . . if it's generated by staff, it doesn't feel like there's any oversight on it" from the voters, McGrady said.

Landbeck stressed the finance director, department heads and city manager, those who handle public funds and their distribution on a daily basis, have the greatest expertise when it comes to crafting the budget.

The City Council has the final vote on the budget, and she and other supporters of the amendment argued it should fit the council's vision for the city.

"You know what we want," she told McGrady. "You don't want to bring us a budget we're not going to accept."

"Maybe I do," McGrady replied. "Maybe the mayor wants to bring the mayor's priorities to the budget."

Taylor encouraged a collaborative budget process, with input from all parties. He said the mayor should provide an "overall vision" to the council and ask "how can we make this work?"

"We want to work to see what is the vision of the city and how can this work for the city with the leadership that we have?" he said.

McGrady said Tuesday that a timeline for adopting the amendment has not been set, but the mayor and council could take a vote during their first meeting in May.

"Changing the charter is not something that anybody should take lightly, so it's important that everybody understands what's in it before we act on it," he said.



Harford County’s “Choose Civility” campaign kicked off with a breakfast event at the Water’s Edge Events Center in Belcamp on Wednesday.
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