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Aberdeen looks at extending terms

The Baltimore Sun

A committee reviewing Aberdeen's charter will also look into the possibility of extending term lengths for members of the City Council.

Aberdeen City Council members serve two-year terms and all face elections in the same year. Many of the council members, as well as Mayor Michael E. Bennett, say that lengthening the term to four years and staggering the elections would be better for the city.

A nine-member committee, appointed by the City Council, will report its findings and recommendations in November.

"We know there are things in the charter that need correcting," Bennett said. "There are dates no longer applicable, and it needs to be brought up to speed. One of the things we heard pretty clearly from citizens was a lot of people think it's high time for the city to look at the four-year, staggered terms."

Many on the council say that two-year terms are too short to tackle deep-rooted issues in the city, such as the water shortage, financial problems pertaining to Ripken Stadium and the nationwide military base realignment and closures, known as BRAC, that will affect the area.

"I think a four-year term allows people to do more planning and get into the bigger goal of moving the city forward," Bennett said.

Michael Hiob, a city councilman, agreed.

"There are so many issues we deal with - Aberdeen water source and sewer, these are big issues that are very expensive," he said. "Every two years, we switch enough people in the council that we don't have consensus. It takes years to come up with a consensus."

Hiob raised the example of a desalination project started by former Mayor S. Fred Simmons, who sought to use bay water as a source for the city.

"Then the next mayor comes in, and that gets put on hold and there's new research," he said. "The long-term issues don't get resolved because of the lack of continuity of council members."

Many say a staggered term should be considered to ensure that there is experience and continuity on the council.

If such a measure is adopted by the council, the changes would go into effect for the next council and would not change the current council's terms.

The city's Charter Review Committee will also look into having a full-time, paid council, Bennett said. Each of the city's four council members appointed a person to the committee and the mayor named five people.

The nine committee members are all Aberdeen residents: Nancy Backus, Pat Faircloth, Gina Bantum, Donald Curry, Chuck Doty, Norma Ford, Bruce Garner, Karen Heavey and Donna Jolley.

Ruth Ann Young, a councilwoman elected last fall, said that if the council goes to four-year terms, there should be a recall component, to allow voters to take back an official. Bennett also supports that idea.

"The biggest concerns we have are probably that the terms of service - two years is not enough to get anything done," he said. "At the same token, we don't think we'd like to see four years unless we have some sort of recall."

Many in Aberdeen look to Bel Air as a model.

Bel Air Town Commissioner Terence O. Hanley said the town's system, in which commissioners serve four-year terms with staggered elections, works.

"It generally takes 24 months to get a good feel of how government operates," Hanley said.

Aberdeen's northern neighbor, Havre de Grace, has a council that serves two-year terms with staggered, annual elections every spring.

The city looked into the issue of extending council terms to four years several years ago, said Havre de Grace Mayor Wayne Dougherty. He said he opposed extending the terms.

"We had such uproar from the community no one dares to suggest it today," he said.

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