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Aberdeen mayor mails in his referendum petition

Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady says he mailed a petition to City Hall in an effort to force referendum on city charter changes approved by the City Council that strip the mayor’s office of most of its executive powers.
Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady says he mailed a petition to City Hall in an effort to force referendum on city charter changes approved by the City Council that strip the mayor’s office of most of its executive powers. (Jen Rynda for The Record / Baltimore Sun)

Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady says he has submitted a petition to take to referendum the city charter changes recently approved by the City Council that strip the mayor's office of most of its executive powers.

But the mayor, who launched the petition drive independent of city government and at his own expense, won't say how many signatures he was able to gather, and other city officials aren't saying much, either.

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"I think something, this week, you'll hear," McGrady said in response to a city resident who raised the issue during the public comment portion of Tuesday's City Council meeting.

"I'm here tonight on behalf of many people who signed the recent petition," Joyce Woods, who resides on Carol Avenue, said. "We are anxiously wanting to know, do you have any results, where do we go from here, what other actions can we take to perhaps amend that charter . . ."

Woods said she is concerned that not all residents will be able to get word of what is happening with the petition. She cited older residents who do not use social media platforms such as Facebook and younger residents who do not have landline phones and would miss robocalls that have been sent out regarding the petition drive.

McGrady told Woods the city clerk must review the petition, along with the city's board of elections.

"I think it will be newsworthy, when there is news of it," he said, without going into specifics. When contacted again by a reporter Wednesday, he refused to say how many signatures were submitted.

McGrady has been working since last month to get 1,990 signatures, or 20 percent of the city's registered voters, so a referendum can be held to allow voters to weigh in on whether changes should have been made to the charter that limit the mayor's powers.

This past Saturday was the deadline to submit the signatures. McGrady acknowledged last week, just days before the deadline, that he had about 800 signatures as of his most recent count.

The mayor said Wednesday that he mailed the petition to the city on Saturday.

City Clerk Monica Correll is on vacation and is not scheduled to return until next week, City Manager Randy Robertson said Wednesday. He noted that neither he nor other city staffers have seen the petition.

"Only Mr. McGrady knows where he stands," Robertson said, putting the emphasis on "Mr." rather than "mayor," as McGrady has conducted the petition drive as a citizen.

It's going to be a challenge for Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady to get all the signatures he needs by Saturday evening to bring the recent charter changes to

City Attorney Frederick Sussman said Thursday that the number of signatures submitted should be counted by the city clerk with a witness present.

Those signatures, if there are enough to meet the threshold of at least 20 percent of registered voters, should then be checked against the voter rolls to determine whether there are enough signatures that are valid, according to Sussman.

We're trying to come up with a fair, objective process," he said.

State law governs the process of amending a municipal charter by resolution and empowers citizens to take the resolution to referendum once the municipality's legislative body – in this case the Aberdeen City Council – has adopted that resolution.

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The legislative body, under state law, is responsible for determining if a referendum election can proceed, setting the date of the election and determining the referendum question that would be on the election ballot.

Municipalities must set out the administrative process of counting and verifying signatures, however, according to Sussman.

In Aberdeen's case, the council that has the final say on the referendum election is the same council that has voted to adopt the resolution restructuring city government.

"Under state law, it's [the council's] responsibility," Sussman noted.

Gina Bantum, chair of the Aberdeen Board of Elections, could not be reached Wednesday; however, another board member, Mark Schlottman, said they would become involved if the referendum petition is validated, at which point the board would put the election together.

Schlottman said elections supervisors would not have an opinion "one way or another" on the petition.

He, Bantum and the third member, Angela Johnson, were reappointed to the elections board during Tuesday's council meeting. The mayor and council unanimously approved each person's four-year term, which runs from July 1 to July 1, 2021.

One Aberdeen City Council member has been saying for months the city doesn't have a vision, and the lack of one has contributed to the division among the

Bantum gave a thumbs up when McGrady asked if she would continue serving as chair. The mayor swore her in, along with Johnson and Schlottman.

Charter changes

The City Council voted 3-2 on May 8 to adjust the city charter so the duties of the mayor and city manager are consistent with what the sponsors said is the 1992 restructuring of the city government from a five-member commission to a mayor-and-council government, as well as a 2010 revamping of the charter.

Council members Sandra Landbeck, Tim Lindecamp and Melvin Taylor voted to adopt the changes, and Councilman Steve Goodin and McGrady voted against it. The vote reflects a split that has existed between the mayor and the first three council members since the elections of November 2015.

The mayor clashed with the council early on over filling the fourth council seat after a tie between council candidates emerged on Election Night. The mayor and council were split for months as the council rejected McGrady's appointees to fill the seat until the appointment of Goodin was approved last spring.

There have been heated debates over the proposed charter changes this spring, with the mayor on one side and Landbeck, Lindecamp and Taylor on the other.

The changes adopted by the council give the city manager the authority to create Aberdeen's annual budget and be the sole supervisor of city department heads and employees.

The mayor would make appointments to boards and commissions, with the council's consent.

Landbeck, the senior member of the council, has stressed confusion over whether the city manager or mayor is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the city and the budget is causing distress for city employees.

"We [the council] tell the city manager what we want done; he sees that it's carried out," Landbeck said in the days following the May 8 vote. "It's a very nice check and balance."

McGrady has called the charter changes "politically motivated." He tried to get an amendment passed May 8 to ensure the changes would not take effect until 2019, the year of the next mayoral and council elections, but the amendment was not supported.

McGrady wants the voters to have a say in changes to the charter, a sentiment Woods and other residents echoed Tuesday.

Woods discussed the situation with fellow residents, such as Bob Hartman, who had worked to get petition signatures, while the mayor and council were in a closed session.

"People signed [the petition] that don't agree with the mayor, but they said it's unfair to him because it's in between elections that you're doing this," Hartman said.

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Woods said she has been collecting signatures, with help from a neighbor, since May 26. She has also been encouraging other people to collect signatures through phone calls, personal visits, even through her church.

She questioned the timing of changing the charter in the middle of a term of office.

"I still don't fully understand why they want to change it, what has gone so drastically wrong or ill that they don't think the city should be run in this manner," Woods said.

According to the city charter, the receipt of a referendum petition acts to stay the effective date of any ordinance or part of one, "unless approved at the election by a majority of the qualified voters on the question."



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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