The Manchester Town Council approved, by a 3-1 vote last night, a charter amendment that would empower the panel -- instead of the mayor -- to fire the town manager.
Town residents already are considering a referendum vote on the action.
Council members John Riley, Kathryn Riley and Doug Myers voted for the change. Councilman Robert Kolodziejski opposed it. Councilwoman Charlotte Collett was absent.
The change becomes effective in 50 days if residents do not successfully petition within 40 days to bring it to a referendum vote.
The proposal arises from a conflict within the council. And depending on who is describing it, the conflict is about long-range strategic planning or disagreement over the town manager's performance.
Some of the loudest audience opposition to the change came from Michael Stielper and Christopher D'Amario, whom the mayor appointed last night to the town ethics commission.
Pat Shea also was appointed to the commission.
The three appointees were members of the town's ad-hoc committee on water and sewers, which the council disbanded after the May election.
"What was done incorrectly by the town manager?" asked Mr. Stielper while the council was discussing the charter amendment before it voted.
A woman from the audience shouted him down before anyone on the council could answer.
"I feel this is what town residents want," Mrs. Riley said at one point.
"I have this with my 5-year-old at home," said Christopher D'Amario. "If she doesn't like [something], she changes the rules."
He told the council that if its members could not justify their action, "we'll take it to referendum."
"We're asking for comment, and what you're trying to do is shut us off," Mr. Stielper told the council.
"It's obvious that this council has personality problems, and it's sickening," said resident Bob Swiecicki.
When Mr. D'Amario asked Mayor Earl A. J. "Tim" Warehime Jr. for instructions on how to ask for a referendum and was referred to Article 23 of the Annotated Code of Maryland, Mr. D'Amario asked, "Does that also deal with a recall vote for a council member?"
After the meeting, Mr. D'Amario said the council had not answered his questions, and that he was going to "explore the possibility" of taking the matter to referendum.
Currently, the town manager may be fired by the mayor with the approval of the council, or by a four-fifths vote of the council.
Some audience members who did not identify themselves voiced support for the amendment during the council's discussion.
The council tabled ordinances dealing with water and sewer rates and water and sewer connection fees. Mayor Warehime said the wording of the ordinances needs to be re-worked.
Regarding the ethics commission, Mayor Warehime said he had checked the town charter and found that the board of elections supervisors does not act as the town ethics commission, as he had thought.