As you may know, the honorable Ward 8 Alderman took time out of his duties Thursday night to meet with 40 people or so who cared to come to the Eastport Fire Station to discuss the issues du jour.
Despite the fact that I do not live in a ward that is numbered 1 or 8, I was allowed to express my opinions on the aforementioned issues.
I have to say that I was reasonably pleased with what Mr. Arnett had to say, which is saying nothing in response to the accusations of constituents that he had been unreachable to say anything. He is laid back, pleasant, intelligent, and a retired economist*.
(Being an economist is an automatic +9267 on the 10,000-point awesome scale. However, being a Democrat is an automatic -3190. So to analogize, ceteris paribus, he's a Honda Accord--not an Aston Martin, but not a Prius.)
Alderman Arnett spent much of his time (or at least much of the time that I was there), talking about crime. He expressed frustration that even as a member of the Public Safety Committee, he is limited in his power to affect change in the police department. He informs that said committee is taking a more proactive approach than ever before, soliciting independent audits of techniques and technologies employed by our law enforcement unit.
Alderman Arnett suggested that the results of the audit will serve as a blueprint for the new police chief, but refrained from calling for Chief Johnson's resignation, stating only the most obvious caveat: that a new chief will come "eventually".
He also spent some time talking about the idea of a city manager, which would effectively (depending on the language of any proposed charter amendment) transfer authority from the mayor to the city council. Mr. Arnett pointed out that the mayor currently has 3 roles:
1. Vote on the City Council, over-seer of the legislative agenda.
2. CEO of $77 million city 'corporation'.
3. Ribbon-cutting, baby-kissing, Annapolis ambassador to the world.
This is a lot to do, and is a lot of power concentrated in one place. So much so that the city council can't do their job, even when they agree that a problem needs to be fixed (i.e. police recruiting).
A city manager form of government addresses this problem. A city manager is (ideally) hired by the city council, and serves at their whim. He (or she!) can hire and fire city personnel, and is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the city (the corporation).
The city manager is accountable to the citizens via the aldermen--not the mayor. Citizens put pressure on their aldermen to fix a problem. The city council can then legislate--which they can do now--but they can also put pressure on the city manager by saying "If you don't shape up XXX department, we will egg your house at night", etc.
I think this is a good idea, and so does Mr. Arnett. He claims to be well along in a bill co-written with Alderman Isreal, the recognized guru of governmental procedures, that will introduce some type of city manager provisions into the charter.
The question is: exactly what do they propose to do? From the small bit that I heard, it sounds like the provisions might be focused on changing the job description of the city administrator. The currently city administrator is appointed by the mayor, and basically does whatever the mayor doesn't want to do...for a salary of $120,000. What this has amounted to thus far is merely the supervision of our sister city program, or so I've heard.
The current city administrator position is not a division of power--just a waste of money. All the power is through the mayor, and the city council can't really do anything about it.
I am happily surprised that this idea is preempting the 2010 charter review, and if the proposed city manger has hiring/firing power and is accountable to the council (i.e. not the mayor), it is a step in the right direction.