Ches. City con­sid­ers char­ter changes about per­son­nel

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - Jowens@ce­cil­whig.com

CHESAPEAKE CITY — The town coun­cil may soon con­sider em­bold­en­ing its own power and weak­en­ing the mayor’s po­si­tion in re­gards to the ap­point­ment and dis­missal of the town’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, among pro­posed changes to the town char­ter.

The two char­ter amend­ments be­ing con­sid­ered were pro­posed by Coun­cil­woman Re­becca Mann, a two-time coun­cil mem­ber who has spent much of her first months back in of­fice up­dat­ing the town char­ter to re­flect pre­vi­ously ap­proved amend­ments and re­view­ing ar­eas for po­ten­tial up­dates.

While the pro­pos­als would de­vi­ate from the tra­di­tional strong mayor-coun­cil gov­ern­men­tal sys­tem that Chesapeake City uses, in which the mayor serv­ing sep­a­rately from coun­cil as chief ex­ec­u­tive has greater ap­point­ment pow­ers, Mann said she be­lieved the short terms of the town’s mayor re­quired greater in­put to re­duce turnover.

The first pro­posed amend­ment seeks to give all hir­ing and dis­missal de­ci­sions for town per­son­nel to the town coun­cil rather than the mayor. His­tor­i­cally, the mayor has been given a wide lee­way to cre­ate and cut po­si­tions that fit his or her par­tic­u­lar goals, while the town coun­cil was pro­vided the check-and-bal­ance of de­ter­min­ing whether to fund such po­si­tions.

“I don’t think it should be up to any one per­son when they could change every two years to be able to hire and fire all the em­ploy­ees,” Mann said at the town’s Oct. 23 meet­ing. “And as a coun­cil per­son, I’ve been asked to vote on sev­eral salaries for po­si­tions when I don’t get to see the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of a per­son.”

The sec­ond pro­posed amend­ment makes sev­eral changes to the po­si­tion of town trea­surer, the time­line for the town bud­get and who can sign checks in the ab­sence of the mayor.

In ac­cor­dance with the first pro­posed amend­ment, the sec­ond would make the trea­surer’s po­si­tion, or the town’s chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, ac­count­able to both the mayor and coun­cil, rather than the mayor alone. It also re­quires the mayor to sub­mit his or her pro­posed an­nual bud­get to the coun­cil at least 90 days be­fore the start of a fis­cal year rather than only 32 days. Fi­nally it ex­plic­itly al­lows the town coun­cil mem­ber des­ig­nated as the head of the fi­nance de­part­ment to sign checks in the ab­sence of the mayor, rather than the coun­cil’s vice pres­i­dent as had been pre­vi­ous prac­tice.

Mann noted that nowhere in the char­ter does it give the vice pres­i­dent author­ity to sign checks de­spite long­stand­ing prac­tice that was only changed last year and, in an ef­fort to clar­ify po­si­tions, she felt the per­son best able to do so was the fi­nance head. Cur­rently, Coun­cil Vice Pres­i­dent Frank Vari also serves as head of the fi­nance de­part­ment, but there is no pro­vi­sion re­quir­ing those roles to align.

“Even though it’s been done one way for decades, we’re go­ing to start do­ing it right,” Mann said.

She pre­sented the pro­pos­als for com­ment from the town coun­cil at the Oct. 23 town meet­ing, where she re­ceived min­i­mal con­cern­ing feed­back from her col­leagues, and plans to for­mally in­tro­duce the mea­sures at the Nov. 13 meet­ing.

While Mayor Dean Geraci­mos was un­able to at­tend the Oct. 23 town meet­ing, he submitted a let­ter to the coun­cil de­tail­ing his op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal, writ­ing, “By ap­prov­ing the pro­posed char­ter change giv­ing coun­cil the power of ap­proval of the ap­point­ment and ter­mi­na­tion of em­ploy­ees from what has his­tor­i­cally been a mayor’s de­ci­sion, coun­cil will ef­fec­tively be erod­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive pow­ers of the mayor while in­creas­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tive pow­ers of coun­cil, which in my opin­ion goes against the very in­tent of the sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers spelled out in the char­ter. The mayor is re­spon­si­ble for the day-to-day ad­min­is­tra­tion of the town and there­fore needs to be the one who de­cides on the ap­point­ment and ter­mi­na­tion of em­ploy­ees.”

Geraci­mos, who has an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion prior to Dec. 4 spe­cial elec­tion stem­ming from dis­agree­ments with the coun­cil, also said the pro­posal “bog­gles” his mind, call­ing it “an or­ches­trated at­tempt to back­door a per­sonal agenda.”

He said it would be un­likely for a mayor to un­justly fire an em­ployee be­cause it would leave the town at a whole at a dis­ad­van­tage. As the mayor is re­spon­si­ble for the day-to­day op­er­a­tion of the town, he or she would not want to cre­ate more is­sues than are nec­es­sary.

Fur­ther­more, Geraci­mos said that he has sought in­put from coun­cil and ex­ist­ing staff when con­sid­er­ing new hires for his ad­min­is­tra­tion over his nearly six-year ten­ure.

In con­clu­sion, the mayor en­cour­aged the coun­cil to con­sider the “un­in­tended con­se­quences of pol­icy change.”

“I ask each of you to ex­er­cise cau­tion when con­sid­er­ing char­ter changes, es­pe­cially ones that af­fect the town’s del­i­cate bal­ance of power,” he wrote. “One of you may be mayor some­day and con­sider how this will af­fect your abil­ity to man­age staff on a daily basis.”

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