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October 10, 2002

Separation Of Powers In Jeopardy In City

John W. Ashbury

Something has to happen to reduce the battle lines in Frederickís City Hall. What has been happening for the past several months has to stop, or else the city faces three more years of total disharmony.

A couple of weeks ago Alderman David Lenhart gave the legislative aide for the Board of Aldermen a letter to prepare on city stationery. It was to be addressed to the PTA presidents of all schools in the city informing them of an Escape School program at Thomas Johnson Middle School. This nationally recognized program teaches parents how to protect their children from predators, and others, who mean to harm the children.

While the aide was preparing the letter, someone from the mayorís staff happened by and noticed what was being done. It is thought that the mayorís staffer demanded a copy and went roaring into the mayorís office. There followed an email to the legal office from the mayor. The tone has been described as anything but pleasant.

Last Thursday night, just prior to the mayor and board meeting, Mr. Lenhart was asked into the legal office to discuss a complaint which had been filed against him for a violation of the Ethics Code.

Mr. Lenhart waited patiently while the assistant city attorney assigned to the Ethics Commission explained the charges. She said Mr. Lenhart had improperly used city stationery to promote a non-city sponsored event. During previous administrations many letters went out from both the mayor and the aldermen supporting such events without the slightest hesitation - or complaint.

When she had finished, Mr. Lenhart asked how such activity could be a violation of the cityís Ethics Code when the letter was never sent out. The assistant city attorneyís eyes, according to Mr. Lenhart, got as big as "saucers."

What do you mean the letter was never sent out, she asked. "Just what I said," he replied. "The letter was never sent to anyone on city stationery, or any other stationery for that matter."

The ethics complaint against the alderman was subsequently withdrawn. But, in its place, a request was made to The Ethics Commission to clarify the use of city stationery by the mayor, the Board of Aldermen, and all city employees. The clarification has now been drawn, but the mayor and board will have to resolve the conflicts within it.

The major issue here is not whether or not Alderman Lenhart would have violated the Ethics Code had he sent out the letter. The real question, and far more serious than any of the previous disputes between the mayor and the board, is the obvious violation of the separation of the executive and legislative functions of this city government.

The mayor, who apparently revels in the controversy she creates, thinks that all employees of the city work solely for her, report to her, do her bidding, and kowtow to her every whim. If they donít do all of these things, they appear on her "enemies list," the idea for which she obviously learned in school while studying Richard Nixon.

Earlier this year she chastised Mr. Lenhart for consulting with staff on city issues. The staff isnít hers. It belongs to the citizens of the City of Frederick. Alderman Lenhart was elected by them, and, therefore, is a duly recognized representative of the people, and, therefore, has the right to consult THEIR employees.

For a member of the mayorís personal staff to "peer" over the shoulder of someone assigned to the members of the Board of Aldermen and then go running to the mayor with "tales out of school" just destroys the confidential relationship the legislative aide must have with the people with whom she works. The aldermen deserve better, as does the legislative aide.

If city employees cannot be candid with the aldermen, then independent decisions cannot be made. The mayor has, time and again, made it clear that she is in charge. True, enough. But she is not "Her Imperial Majesty (HIM)." Six people were elected to run this city, not just one.

The mayorís management style leaves a great deal to be desired. She may be able to run a restaurant the way she runs the city, but she canít run a city the way she is doing it.

She has no place in her personality, apparently, for compromise. Itís her way or the highway. Nearly a half-dozen top level, top quality people have left city government for the sole reason of conflict with the mayor. There can be no other explanation. They were happy in January until the 10th. Then the administration changed and the egg shells were scattered on every hallway.

Perhaps a lot of the conflict can be laid at the feet of those Democratic Party leaders who touted throughout last yearís campaign that the aldermen positions were secondary; that the mayorís post was "The Prize." It went to her head when she won. A prize which the mayor has claimed all to herself.

Neither Bill Hall nor Dave Lenhart will ever claim that they are always right on every issue. But, at least, they are willing to admit that. The mayor isnít.

If these "situations" continue to arise, the citizens of Frederick will become so jaded by the antics of both the mayor and the aldermen, they may throw up their hands in disgust and stay away from the polls.

On the other hand, this may be exactly what is needed to get citizens out to the polls - to throw all the rascals out.

In the meantime. The mayor is bringing in a "mediator" to bridge the ever-widening chasm between the mayor and the board. Wish the mediator luck. He or she will need it because the solution is obvious and the mayor wonít like it.

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