Interview with Aberdeen Mayor Mike Bennett:
As part of The Dagger’s coverage of the City of Aberdeen’s municipal election on Nov. 3, the following questions were presented to each candidate for mayor and city council.
The five questions (bolded and boxed) were chosen to generate discussion on specific topics. The candidates’ answers have been included verbatim as received by email or reported following an interview.
1) If you are unsuccessful in your re-election bid and never return to office, what will your legacy be? How do you want to be remembered?
“My legacy when I get out of public life? I really don’t care if people remember my name whatsoever, but did I accomplish things for the city and citizens of Aberdeen? Did I make things better for them?”
Bennett said he didn’t get into politics to develop his legacy, in fact, he admitted his original intent two years ago was to run for city council because he saw problems beginning to develop in Aberdeen. Bennett said he soon realized he didn’t want to serve the city under a mayor who was steering the city in the wrong direction [former mayor Fred Simmons]; so he challenged and ultimately replaced that mayor.
“I want the city to be better off for my having been there. If no one ever remembers my name again, that’s OK.”
2) Do you believe Aberdeen gets enough “bang for its buck” from the city police department? Would Aberdeen be better off dissolving the APD and handing protection over to the Harford County Sheriff’s Office? What changes, if any, are needed within APD – underfunded, overfunded, top-heavy, etc?
Even though Bennett has 39 years of service with Maryland State Police, many perceive there has been a reduction in police activities in Aberdeen because they don’t see him out chasing evil-doers with wearing a bullet-proof vest or carrying a pistol – as Simmons was well known for.
“Why would I want to do that? I did that in uniform for 31 years. That’s not the mayor’s job. That’s the police chief’s job.”
Bennett said the Aberdeen Police Department is overall a “good organization,” but “there are things over there that need to be corrected.”
“We need to refocus efforts in a few areas. I don’t think the guys need to be out on Route 40 hawking traffic tickets. Our people need to be in the neighborhoods making sure the neighborhoods are safe.”
“I think the world of the police department over here and I’m going to give them the tools they need.”
Bennett also pointed out the police department is “fertile grounds for rumor” and wanted to disspell one such rumor – about the disbanding of APD.
“My brain has not even considered that possibility.”
“They have a big supporter in me and when the economy straightens out we’ll start to look at if we can do raises.”
3) What do you believe is the best path to securing Aberdeen an affordable, sustainable, longterm water supply?
[Editor’s note: We got caught up talking about police and annexation and skipped right over this question. It should be noted Bennett just signed off on Amendment 6 of the city’s water agreement with Harford County to provide Aberdeen with a short term water fix. Bennett has said he does not believe the funds are available for the city to build its own, independent water plant]
4) If the Wetlands team came back with another proposal for annexation similar to the one talked about two years ago (including the millions of dollars upfront for city infrastructure, funding for city personnel and equipment, new fire substation, etc), what would your vote be and why?
Bennett said the city is not against growth or annexation and pointed to the Hiob Lane annexation, which he said will fly quickly because it’s the right thing in the right area.
“The expansion and development fits in with the existing community.”
“If that [Wetlands] came in again the only thing that would change my mind on that would be if the citizens are OK with that to proceed. Right now citizens of Aberdeen 2-to-1 have said they are not in favor.”
“Our employers are the citizens. They’re the bosses. They need to be involved in making big decisions like this.”
“I will support logical growth within the development envelope.”
Bennett said one such area of logical growth may be to move Aberdeen east toward the Robinhood Road area because of existing infrastructure.
5) Who do you hope is elected to the city council and why?
Bennett, who calls himself a “pretty private person in a pretty not-so-private venue,” said “I’ll do my talking through the privacy of the ballot box.”
“I think it’s pretty obvious some of the folks I don’t support. If you come by my house, you can get a good idea of that.”
“There’s absolutely no doubt I want change on the council.”
Bennett described his first term as mayor as two years of “fighting and scraping.”
“It’s been a good education, but it hasn’t been fun.”
“I want to be able to have a council I can sit down and have a conversation with.”
Without specifically naming his mayoral race challenger Mike Hiob, Bennett rattled several instances of “the council president” changing his mind and position after they sat down and had seemingly hammered out some issues.
“He made all this noise about the water agreement,” said Bennett about Hiob’s displeasure with not being invited by the mayor to participate in the city’s dealings with the county over water purchases.
Aside from the fact that he already had other council members working on the project, Bennett said he couldn’t let Hiob, a county environmental inspector, sit in on contract negotiations with the county – “it’s a clear conflict of interest.”
From Bennett’s biography on the city website:
Mayor Michael E. Bennett was born, May 26, 1948 in Madison, Indiana. He moved to Aberdeen in 1958 with his family. He graduated from Aberdeen High School in 1966 and went to work with the Aberdeen Police Department as a police dispatcher. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in March of 1968 and served a tour of duty in Viet Nam as an Air Traffic Controller. Mayor Bennett is a retired Lieutenant, Maryland State Police having served for 31 years. He continues to serve the Maryland State Police as the civilian Director of the Electronic Systems Division. Mayor Bennett is starting his 38th year with the Maryland State Police. Mayor Bennett is a life member of the Aberdeen Fire Department, having served since 1964. He is a former Fire Chief and President of that department.
Mayor Bennett lives with his wife, Elaine on N. Rogers Street and they have one daughter, Michele, who resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Mayor Bennett holds a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Electronic Engineering Technology from Siena Heights University, Adrian, Michigan. He has served the City of Aberdeen as a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals and is the liaison to the Economic Development Commission of the City. Mayor Bennett also serves as the Co-Chair of the Local Government Service Committee to the BRAC Sub-Cabinet chaired by Lt. Governor Anthony Brown.