One Aberdeen City Council member has been saying for months the city government doesn't have a vision, and the lack of one has contributed to the division among the council.
The mayor and four council members are hoping to rectify that at an upcoming session during which they will work together to generate an idea of where Aberdeen is heading not only in the next few months and years, but well into the future.
While they hope to set the date for such a meeting by the end of this week, the division between Mayor Patrick McGrady and three of the four council members over who should be running the city continues, as the mayor seeks to overturn recently adopted changes in the city charter.
"We need to assess what our needs are, what are strengths are, think about catastrophic needs to address," Council member Sandra Landbeck, the most vocal about Aberdeen's lack of vision, said during Monday night's council meeting. "We need to prioritize them, come to a consensus, then we'll have a vision."
McGrady offered some of his ideas for what Aberdeen should be like.
"Aberdeen is a place where people love to live, where people feel safe in their homes and neighborhood," he said during Monday's discussion of the vision issue.
McGrady sees the city as being more people-centric, with single-family homes, townhouses, apartments, tiny houses, duplexes, triplexes and boarding houses. He'd like walking and biking connections between different parts of town.
Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady says he continues to work with city council members to find a suitable nominee to fill the vacant fourth council seat and hopes to submit one for a vote at the next council meeting Jan. 11.
He wants the business climate to be less restrictive than it is in neighboring jurisdictions "so people want to come here," he said. "A place where people gather to talk, do business and share in their living experience."
He'd like a "yes, and here's how" mentality across the city. He'd like to restore the central people area of the city - the historic downtown - as well as look at possible commercial development on the east side of town so people can shop in their own neighborhoods.
"There is so much opportunity," McGrady said. "Aberdeen is a dynamic location, so there's a lot of opportunity."
Landbeck said McGrady's offerings on a city vision are a "marvelous start."
"I'm so very happy to see the mayor coming up with his vision, and I really like the vision he has," she said. "This is his power. He goes to our city manager and says 'This is our vision, make sure the employees carry this out, that our budget fits this vision.'"
Charter battle continues
The mayor's job is not to be the CEO of the city, Landbeck reiterated Monday.
That responsibility, she said, falls to the city manager, and that's why she and two other council members voted at the May 8 council meeting to amend the city charter to change two functions of the mayor and clarify a third.
Landbeck maintains they didn't change the form of city government - a city council and city manager - that was established in 1992. Even so, the 1992 restructuring also provided for an elected mayor, which the city did not have previously.
McGrady disagrees with the changes.
The amendments, by their title, restructured the city's form of government, and he believes it's something the voters in Aberdeen should have a say about.
The mayor is trying to garner enough signatures (1,990, which is 20 percent of the registered voters of Aberdeen) to bring the charter changes to referendum.
Included in the changes in the resolution approved by Landbeck and Council members Tim Lindecamp and Melvin Taylor (McGrady and Council member Steven Goodin voted against the resolution) is to make the mayor, whoever he or she is, part of the legislative body of Aberdeen.
"You can't be the mayor and legislative at the same time," Landbeck said.
The changes also move the responsibility for the budget preparation process from the mayor to the city manager.
Lindecamp, who took the mayor to task during the May 22 council meeting for contributing to a divide among the council members, said in governments where the executive prepares the budget, he or she does not vote on it.
He cited the federal government and the state of Maryland. In nearby Havre de Grace, the mayor prepares the budget, but he doesn't vote on it, he said. (In Havre de Grace, the mayor does not have a vote on any matters before the six-member city council, unless there is a tie. The tie-breaking power, though seldom used in the past 50 years, has been questioned.)
The Aberdeen City Council is still at odds over a charter amendment it voted by the smallest margin possible that two council members say was necessary and the mayor says changes the form of government in the city.
The one clarification in the charter, Landbeck said, was made to have the mayor seek input and advice from the council members when making appointments to boards and commissions. The mayor will still have the power to make such appointments, she said.
"He's already doing that and it has made for a better diversity," Landbeck said.
McGrady has been actively soliciting signatures for his referendum petition, which must be done by June 17, he said, the 40th day after the charter changes were approved by the council.
The mayor said he has sent the letters to Aberdeen residents who voted in the 2015 city election and the 2016 presidential general election asking them to sign the petition.
He paid for the letters and postage with his own money and "no indication the city government is involved in any way," he said. They were not written on city letterhead.
"I want people of the city to sign off on the form of government," McGrady said, explaining why he sent the letters and is continuing his effort to get the charter changes before city voters.
The letter caught Taylor off-guard, he said, not only that he received it at home, but that someone used Sunday's service at his church as an opportunity to collect signatures.