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An assault on representative government

The Baltimore Sun

I am amazed that Alderman Richard Israel, who has spent most of his career as a lawyer in the office of the attorney general, would begin 2008 with an assault on representative government as he does with Charter Amendment CA-01-08.

Article IV, Section 2A and Article 5, Section 1 of the proposed amendment muzzle the aldermen and mayor by making any direction to city employees relative to policy an action of misconduct subject to recall. This is a gag rule that renders null and void the vote of the public for representative government. Like Oliver Cromwell in the 1600s, Alderman Israel would transfer the essential powers of government from the mayor and city council to a nonelected bureaucrat.

It is ironic that this assault occurs in the year when Annapolitans are celebrating the birth of full-fledged representative government in the city. The charter of Maryland, granted in 1632, was the most democratic and liberal of its age. Today, we have the peculiar circumstance of declaring that any duly elected leader who directs professional bureaucrats to carry out the law and policies enacted by representatives elected by the people would be charged with misconduct and removed from office.

When I came into office in 2002, the capital budget contained projects passed by previous councils that sat dormant for many years. I directed that those projects be completed. That is a CEO's role, to see that the policies and budget determined by the council be carried out.

Improvements to Edgewood Road, Forest Drive sidewalks, beginning the restoration of the Historic Maynard-Burgess House, rebuilding the Annapolis Police Department, storm water runoff were just a few of the projects that had languished. What is accomplished by removing this authority from the mayor?

Would we tell a governor or county executive that they should have no power to appoint their administrative staff? Would we remove them from office for directing Cabinet members or department heads to perform according to the policies established by elected leaders? Why should we think differently for local elected officials?

Every citizen has the right to support or criticize the policies of the government. There is a forum for change every four years. It's called an election.

Democracy is a partnership between the people and their elected representatives. Mechanisms fostered by distrust only fan divisiveness. Article IV, Section 11 of the proposed amendment does exactly that by establishing an adversarial department of four full-time employees at a possible annual cost of $600,000, to advise only the aldermen on fiscal concerns and presumably act as guardians of the new administrator and the now-weak mayor.

This amendment would not be implemented until I am out of office. However, I believe that the deeper implications of this proposal are grave. This is not a simple "clarification of roles." Passing this amendment would result in a fundamental change in governance.

If we really want to shift power to a nonelected bureaucrat, it would be more honest to eliminate the mayor as chief executive and reduce the salary to $25,000 for time spent cutting ribbons, leading parades and making speeches. The salaries of the aldermen could also be eliminated and council meetings held less frequently.

Our current system of checks and balances may be frustrating and slow, but government is meant to be as it was established in Maryland in 1632 -- open, constituent-based, respecting the will of the people, arguing, debating and finally coming to consensus. This is democracy.

The writer is mayor of Annapolis

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