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Mayoral ‘shake-up’ of town council questioned

Richard Fulton
Emmitsburg News-Journal

(10/2) Three Emmitsburg commissioners rallied behind a mayoral recommendation to designate a new board president at the town Board of Commissioners’ October 1 meeting.

In a vote of 3-2, commissioners Glenn Blanchard, Clifford L. Sweeney and Tim O'Donnell voted to replace standing board President Christopher V. Staiger.  Staiger and fellow Commissioner Patrick A. Joy voted against the measure.

The board members voting for the change stated in general that it was good for the board to rotate members among the various board positions.

The move came as no surprise to Staiger, who remained unconvinced rotation was the issue behind the change.  Staiger has served as the board president since 2005.

"My concern is that this has been presented as the rotation issue," Staiger said.  "I’m concerned that (this resulted because)…the mayor and I had a communications breakdown (starting in July)."

According to Staiger, differences between himself and the mayor developed when Staiger questioned the mayor’s use of town Planner Susan Cipperly in pursuing Town Square and historic beautification and enhancement grants and projects, rather than devoting her time to planning issues.  

"It’s easier for the mayor if I’m not in this role (as board president) anymore," he said, adding, however, "I (will) still have a voice as a commissioner."

"I think he (the mayor) felt that time (spent on planning activities) would detract from the economic development projects and he felt those were more important than the planning projects that we were requesting," Staiger stated subsequent to the meeting.  "There were some other things we were butting our heads over.’

"I think he felt that time would detract from the economic development projects and he felt those were more important than the planning projects that we were requesting," he said.

Staiger noted that, after the disagreement between himself and the mayor, the mayor "began soliciting commissioners individually (to support the changes)."

As part of his mayoral recommendations, Mayor Donald N. Briggs also recommended Commissioner Blanchard be appointed as the new board president, and Commissioner O’Donnell be appointed as the new vice-president, replacing sitting Vice-president Sweeney.

Briggs also recommended that Sweeney serve as treasurer, Joy to serve as town Planning Commission liaison, O’Donnell to serve as Citizens Advisory Committee liaison, and Staiger to serve as town Parks and Recreation Committee liaison.

Staiger said, in reference to the mayor’s recommendation, "Moving me from president to parks pretty much says it all."

All were approved in the 3-2 vote except that of the request to assign Staiger to parks and recreation.  O’Donnell asked Staiger if he would prefer the Citizens Advisory Committee, which Staiger agreed to.  

Joy summed up his assessment of the proposed reorganization by saying, "Voting for change for the sake of change doesn’t always work out."

Subsequent to the meeting, Joy stated, "I find it silly in some ways.  I don’t understand.  I think it’s clearly personal on Don’s part."

Joy also confirmed that the mayor had been approaching commissioners to solicit their support for the change.  

"I talked to the mayor around the end of August, maybe early September, and he was then saying he thinks we need to make a change and that Chris was imperiling his economic development," he said.  "I said that I don’t see that at all because we (as a board) have been totally supportive."

Sweeney stated that it "might have been August when the mayor asked me if I would want to do president of the board.  I told him, ‘I’d have to think about it.  It’s a lot to do.’  I called him back and told him I couldn’t do it.  He didn’t state a reason, but rotating positions has been done before.  We rotated for years.  I don‘t think this was done in malice."

Regarding whether or not Staiger was contacted by the mayor concerning position, the board president stated, "He did not contact me if this was about rotation.  I did try and talk to him at the town office before a meeting in August.  We couldn’t reach a meeting of the minds."

Contrary to some reports, the town mayor does not have the power to make recommendations regarding re-organization to the board, but does so as a result of a courtesy extended to the mayoral position by the board.

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