Four-year terms, strict residency and age requirements for candidates, and a new process for the recall and removal of elected officials are just a few of the major changes proposed in the revised Charter of the City of Aberdeen.
A draft of the document, posted on Aberdeen’s web site, also shows proposed changes which would empower the city manager with roles previously held solely by the mayor, alterations to who and when residents can vote in city elections, and removal of a long-standing requirement to publish city business in the local newspapers.
The most immediately noticeable change in the Charter is the doubling of the length of terms of Aberdeen’s mayor and city council members.
According to the draft Charter, “For the mayoral election in November 2009, the term of office shall change from two (2) years to four (4) years. That term of office shall remain for four (4) years for the election of 2013 and beyond.”
“Elections for Council Members shall be held during odd numbered years on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November. For the Council elections in November 2009, the two (2) candidates for City council receiving the first and second highest number of votes shall serve for a four (4) year term. The terms for those Two (2) council seats shall remain at four (4) years for the 2013 Election and beyond. The two (2) candidates receiving the third and fourth highest number of votes shall serve for a two (2) year term. After the election of 2011, the terms for these two (2) Council seats shall become four (4) years. If an incumbent Council member officially declares his or her candidacy for Mayor, and if that council member has at least two years (2) remaining on his or her term as a council member, he or she will immediately resign his or her council seat. His or her name will not be placed on the ballot for mayor until that resignation is tendered.”
In what could be called the Helton/Johnson Rule, the draft Charter clarifies that, “Residency is defined as being the primary domicile of the candidate.”
In previous elections, there has been great debate concerning whether Art Helton, who owns a home in Darlington and many businesses in Aberdeen, could vote in city elections and whether Steve Johnson, who owned a home in Perryman and a business in Aberdeen, could run as a candidate in a city election.
Also, in what could be called the Burlew Mandate, the draft Charter requires, “The mayor shall be at least twenty-five (25) years of age on the Monday following the mayoral election.”
Nicole Burlew was a 19-year-old Towson University student who ran unsuccessfully for mayor in the three-way contest with Fred Simmons and Mike Bennett.
The age requirement for city council members was set at “at least twenty-one (21) years of age on the Monday following the election electing the member,” which means Burlew, while not able to run for mayor of Aberdeen again for another few years, would still eligible to become a member of the city council.
The draft Charter also lays out a clear path and process for the first time for recall and removal of an elected official via a petition and referendum vote.
“Any member of the council is subject to recall from office for cause and by a referendum of the qualified voters of the city. Upon the receipt by the City Clerk of a petition for recall of a member of council, the city clerk shall forward the petition to the Aberdeen Board of Elections for the purpose of confirming that a minimum of twenty percent (20%) of the qualified voters has signed the petition, that the name and address of the qualified voter is clearly legible and that the cause for recall is clearly presented on the petition. The petition shall be presented to the City Clerk at one time and may not be amended after receipt. If the petition for recall conforms to the requirements of this Charter, an election on the recall will be scheduled by the Aberdeen Board of Elections no later than sixty (60) days from receipt of the petition. That election shall be conducted in a generally similar manner as other city elections. The petition for recall shall clearly state one or more causes for recall which shall be one or more of the following: (1) failure to uphold the oath of office; (2) malfeasance, examples of which are placed upon the petition; (3) misfeasance, examples of which are placed upon the petition; (4) engaging in illegal conduct involving for which the council member has been charged and convicted ; (5) gross abuse of public authority examples of which are placed upon the petition; (6) the coercion of any city employee into taking illegal or improper action or taking retaliatory action against any city employee due to that employee’s disclosure of information relating to the illegal and improper action in city government; (7) gross negligence or incompetence in the performance of public duties examples of which are placed upon the petition. Upon the conclusion of the referendum election, if a majority of the qualified voters who participated in the election vote to remove the member of the council, that member shall be deemed immediately no longer a part of the council and shall be replaced as provided in this charter.”
After reading those seven reasons for removal of an elected official, we can speculate as to their origin.
Elections in Aberdeen are further altered by the draft Charter in that, to be eligible to vote, one must have resided within the corporate limits of the city for at least 21 days prior to the election – cutting 10 days off the previous requirement of 31 days of residency to vote. Also, the draft Charter would extend voting by another hour on Election Day – keeping polls open until 8 p.m.
The role, duties and powers of the City Manager are also greatly bolstered by a series of proposed changes within the draft Charter. As proposed, the draft Charter would remove certain powers from the purview of the Mayor and give them to the City Manager.
Specifically, if the draft Charter is approved, it would become the role and duty of the City Manager to appointment, supervise, and removal all department heads within Aberdeen government.
Furthermore, the draft Charter would give the City Manger almost carte blanche power to run City Hall without the interference of the City Council.
“The city manager shall directly and indirectly supervise all city employees without interference from the four (4) members of the city council or any other board or commission.”
The draft Charter even goes as far as specifically forbidding any member of the City Council from communicating or in any way directing any Aberdeen employee.
“Except for the purpose of inquiry, each council member shall communicate with the city department heads solely through the city manager, nor shall any council member give an order either publicly or privately to the city manager, any department head, or any other employee of the city.”
The draft Charter also would remove the longstanding provision that each ordinance passed by the City Council be published in “a newspapers having general circulation in the municipality.” Instead, Aberdeen would be required only to post a summary of each ordinance on the city’s web page and put a copy “at a conspicuous place at city hall within two (2) weeks of its passage.”
The full draft City Charter document is posted below: