November 28, 2023
Annapolis, US 40 F

Political Brilliance

Smith Out

Doug Smith, contract not renewed
Doug Smith, contract not renewed

Tonight’s Annapolis City Council meeting was full of twists and turns.  To no one’s surprise (except maybe the Council and Mayor) everyone is opposed to the City taking out a loan for $10 million to cover what now amounts to a $12 million deficit.

Alderman Arnett told his constituents that he would be supporting the CA-09-09  City Manager Charter Amendment but then quickly reversed for no apparent reason. Alderman Pfeiffer said he would support it, and he did along with Aldermen Paone and Israel.

Once that amendment (and thorn in the Mayor’s side) was eliminated, the Mayor announced that he was not renewing the contract of Doug Smith (Chief Administrative Officer), and throwing his support behind the CA-03-10–with a few caveats.

So for about an hour, the Council effectively took pieces of Cohen’s failed Amendment (CA-04-10) and merged them with Finlayson’s (CA-03-10) and sprinkled in just a little bit of Cordle’s (CA-09-09)–just enough to confuse everyone!

Alderman Israel protested that the Council was crafting a new form of government on the fly and suggested that the newly revised and amended amendment be presented to the public for testimony. This was readily voted down.  Somewhere in the hour, Alderman Pfeiffer decided he was for the CA-03-10 amendment and flopped (or did he flip?) on the issue.

There was more discussion on language and one sticking point came when none of the nine members of the Council, the City Attorney, nor the City Clerk could come up with the word “municipal”. The newly amended amended amendment stated that the new City Manager (who does not need to be certified or credentialed) required 5 (it was later changed to 8) years of City Management experience. The Council argued that what if they had a candidate that had “state” or “county” experience. The term “city” would limit them in their search.  The 11 of them struggled for words and came up with “local government” management experience.  What about the term “municipal?”  Municipal management covers it all; but local government might just legally restrict the City’s search to municipality that are local to Annapolis.

But nevertheless, the Council put it forward, completely re-crafted at the table and complete with vague language and passed it 7-2 with Israel and Paone Arnett opposing.

Paone commented that this was not the right structure; but was a step in the right direction. Earlier, Israel had mentioned that the City Manager issue had been discussed since 1922 and we are pretty sure it is not dead by any stretch of the imagination.

Now the City needs to find a manager with 8 years of “local government experience” in the next 60 days.

As to the political brilliance, Mayor Cohen knew that his bill to craft the position around Doug Smith would not pass. Being a strong opponent of the Cordle bill, he did what he could to salvage his “strong mayor” power play. He fired Smith which likely appeased Hoyle, Finlayson, and Kirby, and then twisted some arms to get the bulk of what he wanted in the ultimate bill.

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