At Tuesday night's meeting of the Manchester Town Council, the council saw a statesmanlike action by one of its members and heard some very thoughtful words from a former town mayor. Rather than follow John Riley's example or heed Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy's words, however, the four council members returned to the mean-spirited feuding that has dominated their meetings since May.
Even though Mr. Riley had legitimate grounds to test the attorney general's opinion that he could not simultaneously serve as Hampstead's town manager and a Manchester councilman, he decided to put the interests of Manchester above his own.
Last month, in the wake of the attorney general's opinion, Mayor Earl A.J. "Tim" Wareheime had declared Mr. Riley's seat vacant. Mr. Riley's attorney advised him that he was still a voting member of the council. Had Mr. Riley decided to test the case in the courts, it might have been months, even years of appeals, before the judicial system could render a definitive answer. Instead of allowing his uncertain state to interfere with the efficient management of the town, Mr. Riley resigned. For a man who clearly enjoys town politics, it was quite a sacrifice.
His resignation was followed by some wise words from Mr. Lippy. Since becoming a county commissioner, he has kept from sticking his nose into town affairs, he said, but he could not restrain himself any longer. "Do the job you were elected to do: Provide the best possible government for the people," Mr. Lippy urged the council.
Apparently these words had no impact. The council's two warring factions showed no indication of compromising. By failing to pick a replacement for Mr. Riley, the council continues this stalemate and ignores important town business.
If that wasn't bad enough, the council took secret votes in an attempt to fill the council vacancy. Not only did that action violate Maryland law -- which requires all legislative bodies to vote in public -- it indicates that the council doesn't understand the fundamental principle in a democracy: The public's business is to be conducted in public.
For Manchester's elected local representatives, Mr. Lippy's admonition bears repeating: "Provide the best possible government for the people."