Doug Smith on Playing On Public Fears About Council-Manager Proposal; CP Adds to The Debate ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Monday, November 2, 2009

Doug Smith on Playing On Public Fears About Council-Manager Proposal; CP Adds to The Debate

Ward One resident Doug Smith is co-chairman, Annapolitans for a Better Community, sponsors of the Petition for Council-Manager structure which has played such a big role in this election. My comments follow at the end:

I am always interested in the various "negatives" that are thrown up by the opponents to having a City Manager report to the Council. Here’s an example: Opponents try to create fear by saying “The Chief of Police would report to the city manager (that’s true), and “a city manager could fire Chief Pristoop!, Oh this is terrible, we don’t want a city manager!!”

Let’s look at the facts: With Council-Manager structure, all departments heads, including Chief of Police would report to the City Manager. City Managers are hired based on performance. If the Chief of Police (or any other department head) is doing a good job, the City Manager would certainly keep that person on board.

Now let’s look at an actual example of what happened here and recently under our current structure where everyone works for the Mayor. Two years ago we had 8 homicides in Annapolis. The Chief of Police (Chief Johnson) reported to the mayor--who was 100% in charge. I spoke up at City Council to say we had a major crime problem – Annapolis residents were being killed! I said  City Council should review the status on filling vacant police officer positions.  The Ward 8 – Stop the Gun Fire Group spoke up with a similar message. The mayor’s answer to all this  was “ ..this is a cultural thing, we should buy Segways, and get a mounted police officer!”  The mayor should have fired Chief Johnson as she had the authority to do that, but he was a political friend (and ex-Chief Johnson has now endorsed Josh Cohen by the way), so she did nothing except make irrelevant statements.  We had to wait 6 months for Johnson to retire.

Bottom line – if we continue on this path of letting our mayor hire political friends, or being afraid to fire political friends, we are going to be under the control of the temperament of one person – the mayor.  I would much prefer, for the city departments to answer to a City Manager who keeps his job only if the city runs well.  He will keep those department heads who are doing a good job, and fire those department heads who are only on the job because they are a political friend of the mayor.

Which system do you think leads to better government?

Doug Smith
Resident of Ward One, Annapolis.

CP NOTES: Absolutely. It was after the Eastport Gunfire Group (I was there among the hundred or so residents) came to City Hall that we saw how bad our current form of government could be. Boss Ellen's reaction was to run to The Baltimore Sun and call us "rhetorical bomb throwers." That's when I took off the gloves and called for her to resign. I also called for Chief Johnson to resign as he was not listening to residents and was not managing our officers to properly handle the situation. Our aldermen were powerless.  Had there been a City Manager, our pressure on our aldermen could have resulted in the City Manager being pressured to remove the chief--which he would have done or risked job termination. The manager would have chosen and kept a chief based on performance and not political concerns. The council-manager form of government creates much needed checks and balances which don't exist today.  

Chief Johnson drove in from Delaware to endorse Cohen in the primary. As Smith pointed out, homicides reached record levels in his last year. Eight people were murdered on our streets at big-city rates and six of them were Black, one was white and one was Hispanic (???which is a linguistic not a racial descriptor..I don;t understand that...). Johnson was the chief. Johnson reported to the mayor. Eight people died in our mayor-council form of government on our streets that year while we the people were powerless and so were our aldermen, or so they acted. The mayor insulted we the people, the chief and the mayor argued with the housing authority director publicly and eight people were murdered--six of whom were Black.

That is historical fact. Now we have Josh Cohen, who sought and received Johnson's endorsement, trying to scare us into believing that with a council-manager from of government, our current chief's job would be in jeopardy, even though both other mayoral candidates support him. Cohen wants to maintain the same form of government that will allow him as mayor to retain the same powers as Moyer enjoys. He wants to maintain the same structure of government that allowed Johnson to maintain his job while eight people were murdered in one year.  And he will not even sign the petition that will allow we the people to decide on how to change our structure of government or not while he asks for our vote to allow him to maintain the same level of power as Moyer has now. And he does this while promising to change the tone at City Hall and to make the next four years completely unlike the last eight--a theme he never even sounded until his poll figures showed him how much Boss Ellen is loathed. Then suddenly he came out against the 2 am bar license in opposition to her to show us how he is independent and willing to oppose her.

I believe that Cohen will improve the tone at City Hall. I believe he will restore a much higher level of civility and respect. I believe he will raise the bar for communication and leadership and that he will be much more transparent and accessible and accountable than Moyer could ever have hoped to be.  But he will not support a council manager form of government and I believe that is more important to have than it is to have a good mayor who will be all those things I just mentioned about Cohen.

Oh, and two final notes. Chief Johnson of course is Black. Most of the people who were murdered were young Black men. Cohen is now playing the race card as part and parcel of the whole Democratic Party power structure to tell us and especially to tell Blacks that they should be voting straight Democratic and for Black candidates and for him and that the Democratic Party is the best hope for Black voters in Annapolis. It's an old promise. But it's worn thin. A Black police chief did not prevent six Blacks from being murdered but being Black may have played a role in him maintaining his job after he became ineffective after a distinguished career in which he did a good job here and in Baltimore. But it took a new chief to reduce the crime rate and to stop the killing of so many young Black people.

Some people have tried to suggest that a council-manager form of government will hurt Blacks and that they are better off with a mayor-council form of government. Nothing could be further from the truth. All over the country, minorities have a better chance at becoming city managers than city mayors because one chooses a city manager based on education, experience and qualifications. Mayors are chosen for many reasons, but rarely based on those skills. It also takes a lot more money and connections to become mayor than it does to become a city manager. It truly levels the playing field and bases it on merit, not political persuasion. See my previous post on this at   Monday, January 12, 2009
City Managers Come In Different Colors and Genders....just like mayors...they just have more experience in management

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