Administrator plan is good for Annapolis

The Baltimore Sun

This year, the citizens of Annapolis will celebrate the 300th anniversary of the granting of the first city charter. The charter was granted by the colonial governor, John Seymour, in the name of Queen Anne.

Under the original charter, there was an elected common council. Together with a self-perpetuating board of aldermen, it selected the mayor. However, the franchise for electing members of the common council was limited.

Under the republican form of government we have enjoyed since 1776, the franchise has been broadened so that we now have universal adult suffrage. Under the Municipal Home Rule Article of the Maryland Constitution, the voters and the elected representatives of the voters can initiate amendments to the municipal power.

Through periodic elections, government officials can be held accountable by the voters. However, an election does not guarantee that a mayor will have the managerial skills needed to effectively supervise the delivery of routine municipal services.

It has long been recognized that there is a distinction between policy and administration. This distinction is reflected in the existing charter, which characterizes the mayor as the chief executive officer and the city administrator as the chief administrative officer.

Although the charter makes the city administrator the immediate supervisor of the directors of the departments, the city administrator has no role in the hiring and dismissal of department heads. The city administrator also has no role in setting their compensation.

The proposed charter amendment that I will introduce tomorrow would give the city administrator the initiative in hiring and firing decisions. To make sure that there is accountability to the voters, an appointment would be subject to approval by the mayor and the consent of the council. Dismissal would be subject to approval by the mayor.

Similarly, the city administrator would have the initiative in setting the compensation of the directors. However, to provide accountability, the city administrator's decision would be subject to approval by the mayor.

To make sure that the city administrator is the effective supervisor of the department directors, the decisions of directors in hiring and firing employees would be subject to the approval of the city administrator. To strengthen the city administrator's supervisory role, the mayor and individual aldermen would be expressly barred from directing the work of the directors and their employees.

To clarify the role of the city administrator, it is expressly provided that the city administrator "is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the municipal government and the delivery of municipal services." The mayor's role also is clarified by expressly referring to the responsibility for formulating policy and long-range planning.

The role of the council as the law-making body is further defined to expressly provide that the council has the power and responsibility to conduct oversight in the expenditure of public money and the delivery of municipal services. To assist the council with its legislative and oversight work, the mayor would be required to include adequate funding for professional and administrative staff.

If the proposed charter amendment is adopted by the council, it could be petitioned to a referendum of the city's voters. The proposed amendment would not take effect until the mayor and aldermen to be elected at the next regular municipal election in November 2009 have taken office.

As the city's residents prepare to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the granting of the first charter, nothing could be more appropriate than amending the charter to provide for more effective professional administration and yet retain accountability of elected officials through the electoral process.

The writer is an Annapolis alderman representing Ward 1.

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