In the midst of a flag-waving centennial year, the city of Aberdeen is heavy with nostalgia for the good old days -- say, way back two months ago.
That's when residents went to the polls to select their first-ever mayor, a former town commissioner, Ruth Elliott. Prior to the election last month, the town had been run by a board of commissioners. The commissioners last winter voted to change the structure so that residents could elect a part-time mayor to serve as a liaison between a new city council and a full-time professional city administrator. The mayor was granted limited powers, including the right to propose the budget and to appoint and dismiss department heads.
Mrs. Elliott ran as a government "outsider," despite 10 years on the town commission (sort of like President Bush contending he's the candidate for change). She has wasted little time getting comfortable as an "insider," however, playing the position like an old-time pol.
One of her first acts was to order that no town department head speak with the media; she alone will speak for Aberdeen. More recently, she butted heads with some council members over her intention to replace city attorney Greg Rapisarda with Barbara O. Kreamer, a former delegate who recently became a lawyer and who helped Mrs. Elliott substantially in the waning weeks of her successful campaign. (Mrs. Elliott defeated George J. Englesson, who had been only an honorary mayor under the prior form of government, by 48 votes.)
Regarding Mrs. Kreamer, the mayor said she preferred someone local as city attorney, even as she reappointed a Cecil County resident as public works director.
If the reason for overhauling government in Aberdeen was to encourage openness in municipal affairs, Mrs. Elliott's early performance has fallen short. She is breaking new ground, and surely that can't be easy. But curtailing communication and high-level patronage doesn't reflect well on a government, be it 200 years old or 50 days old.
In a reply to council members who were disturbed that she wanted to replace the city attorney in spite of satisfaction with his performance, Mrs. Elliott conjectured that if the council was going to condemn her appointments, perhaps the town should have retained its commission government.
Only weeks into their new system, some Aberdeen residents are wondering the same thing.