Ches. City considers charter changes about personnel
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.”