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Proposed Emmitsburg charter change adds fifth commissioner

Ingrid Mezo

At the next Emmitsburg town meeting, officials are scheduled to vote on whether to add a fifth commissioner to the town board. The vote also includes a decision on changing language in the town charter to prohibit the mayor from voting along with commission members.

A third part of the vote deals with increasing the number of board members, from two to three, required to vote to expel a member of the commission from a meeting for disorderly conduct or a violation of its rules.

The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, at town hall. Emmitsburg town meetings are generally held on the first and third Monday of each month, but the date was moved because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday Monday.

The town board has considered making the charter changes at several town meetings over the last several months, but commissioners opted not to vote until they could consider all three changes at one time.

Mayor James Hoover had presented the board with an amendment to add a fifth commissioner drafted by town attorney John Clapp at the Nov. 20 town meeting, but paperwork for the other changes had not yet been drafted.

It takes 40 days to make charter changes, and 15 days to amend the town’s code, Hoover said.

If the board votes to adopt the changes to the town’s charter, town residents would vote for the fifth commissioner during the already scheduled election in April.

The terms of Commissioners Art Elder and Bill O’Neil expire at the end of April, and their seats are up for election. Neither has officially announced whether they will run for re-election.

Planning and zoning changes

Since Town Planner Mike Lucas and his assistant Jennifer Joy left the town’s planning department Dec. 9, Commissioners O’Neil and Elder have raised objections to the mayor’s handling of the vacancies.

Hoover has said he will not try to replace Lucas with another town planner for the next few months, and shifted some town staff to fill vacancies in the town’s planning and zoning department without receiving approval from commission members.

‘‘If the town commission does not opine, nor act, it sets a dangerous precedent that will allow the executive, in this case, Mayor Hoover, the power to transfer future employees whether seen by the commission as favorable or not, expand their duties without appropriations for such expansion, and place them in a capacity with which the commission may not necessarily agree," O’Neil said during the town meeting Jan. 3.

While O’Neil and Elder did not object to Hoover’s selection of staff to fill vacancies, they did rebuke him for not consulting with the board first. In addition, they both objected to the mayor’s decision not to hire a new town planner.

‘‘With the limited amount of development going on in the town right now, I think it would be wise to hold off on hiring a new town planner," Hoover said.

Hoover has called for restructuring of the town staff that will shift some of Lucas’s responsibilities to town manager Dave Haller and town inspector Frank Henry. The town will also consider using some of the county’s planning resources to help make up for the absence of a town planner.

In addition, the town’s full-time code enforcer Amy Nail was made a full-time zoning technician, and part-time code enforcer Carol Kelly became a full-time staff member. The town is still looking for a part-time code enforcer.

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