Since 1882, Havre de Grace has been run by an elected mayor and council, assisted by a town clerk. This form of government is now changing with the arrival of Dennis Sparks, of Bowling Green, Va., who recently was selected from more than 50 applicants as the Harford County town's first city manager.
When Mr. Sparks begins his new job, he will be responsible for preparing annual budgets for the municipality of 9,400 residents. He will carry out the council's decisions and oversee the daily operations of the municipal staff of 75, including the police, planning and public works departments. But that is only a partial list of responsibilities confronting the Virginian, who once served as a county administrator and has since worked as an independent management consultant.
Havre de Grace knows it has to promote economic development to guarantee future stability. The water and wastewater treatment plant was recently expanded in hopes of widening the tax base. Another possible growth industry is tourism. Havre de Grace's quiet, tree-lined streets and its Victorian houses offer small-town quaintness rarely found these days. Its popularity as a weekend and vacation destination is enhanced by the 3.5-mile waterfront along the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, three private marinas and the city-owned Tydings Park Marina.
In recent years, the council-manager form of municipal management has become increasingly common. In 1945, only 622 jurisdictions used that form of government. Yet between 1969 and 1990, the number of municipalities run by a manager jumped from 2,252 to 3,733. Governing is so complicated these days that the administration of even small cities requires the attention of a full-time professional.
When Havre de Grace initially considered hiring a city manager, some council members worried that such an administrator would weaken the authority of the mayor and council. Some erosion of authority is inevitable. But members of the Havre de Grace council should feel secure enough to let the man they have hired to run the city's affairs do the job without meddling.