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Proposal aims to curb power of city's mayor

The Baltimore Sun

Annapolis Alderman Richard E. Israel is set to introduce to the city council tomorrow night legislation that would severely limit the power of the mayor to oversee city government and municipal services.

The authority to hire, fire and set salaries for department heads would shift from the mayor to the city administrator, who currently oversees the day-to-day management of the departments in conjunction with the mayor.

The change would restrict the mayor's role to policymaking while expanding the role of the city administrator, who is hired by the mayor.

"Running a large organization like the city requires professional skill, but the problem is you have to make it accountable to the voters," said Israel, a Ward 1 Democrat. "The mayor, none of them have really been skilled administrators. And it's long been a distinction between formulating policy and administering a large organization like the city government."

Support unclear

The level of support for the charter amendment among council members - some of whom might run for mayor next year - is unclear.

If passed, the legislation will not take effect until December 2009, after Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, a Democrat, has finished her second four-year term and left office.

Moyer said the proposal would impose a "gag rule" on the mayor, depriving her of the "authority to crack the whip," and that it would "reduce the mayor to ribbon-cutting and occasional speeches."

Neither the mayor nor any members of the council would be permitted to "direct the work of a director or employee of a department," according to a draft of the charter amendment. Any party "who violates this prohibition is guilty of misconduct in office and is subject to removal from office."

The city administrator would appoint department heads, but approval from the mayor and confirmation from the city council would be required.

"We've got good managers," Moyer said. "But I also have a responsibility to remind them of benchmarks they have not met, ... and that requires a direct conversation and sometimes direction. I would hate to think that any mayor would be kicked out of office for assuming their role of leadership."

Israel said the amendment is meant to strengthen the job of the city administrator, who is hired by the mayor, and bring a more professional feel to the operation of city government.

The amendment also calls for funding in the annual operating budget to hire four full-time employees - a budget analyst, a financial adviser, a research assistant and an administrative assistant - to help the city council prepare the annual operating budget. Moyer said the cost of those positions in salary and benefits could top $600,000 annually.

'Adversarial relationship'

The mayor said this move would create an "adversarial relationship" between the council and the department heads, who provide information to the council.

"Why in the name of Pete would we need to replicate what the state does?" Moyer said. "We are a sophisticated city, but also a small city. This creates the whole notion that they can't get good information from department heads."

City Administrator Bob Agee has held his post for 5 1/2 years. For the past five months, he also had held the position of director of municipal services. He declined to comment on the legislation.

Under the amendment, the mayor would still have the authority to appoint the city administrator, but votes from the mayor and at least four aldermen would be required to remove the administrator from the job.


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