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After first introducing the controversial proposal two years ago, the Aberdeen City Council finally passed a code of conduct Monday that supporters say will help regulate how elected officials function and will clarify who fills the executive role in town government.

The ordinance passed 4-to-1, with only Councilwoman Ruth Elliott voting against it. One of the “yes” votes was cast by Mayor Mike Bennett, who has been a proponent of the code.

The new code requires city council members to deal with city administration solely through the mayor or city manager and forbids them from making decisions or taking actions on behalf of the body unless specifically authorized to do so.

The practice of council members contacting city department heads and even lower level employees without prior knowledge of the mayor or city manager, the chief administrator, has been something of a time honored tradition in Aberdeen.

In recent years, however, there have been divisions on the council over how much power its members should have vis-à-vis the mayor. The result of last fall’s city election, in which two longtime council members who opposed tougher contact rules were defeated, may have tilted the balance toward the code of conduct.

Many of the new code’s rules, such as requiring officials to make clear whether they are speaking on behalf of the council or presenting their own views, do not apply to the mayor.

Elliott had fervently opposed the code, saying it will violate the city charter, which does not clearly state what is an executive position, and will treat council members like “little children.”

Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said after the meeting that nothing in the code contradicts the charter and she had long waited to see it pass.

“I think it clarifies what our actions should be. I don’t feel it was childish,” she said. “When I first started thinking about running, I talked to a number of people. I think they perceived a number of problems at city hall. There were too many chiefs and not enough Indians. This will create some order. This was one of the things I really wanted to do.”

Elliott, the sole dissenter, read through the many points of the ordinance that do not apply to the mayor.

She said it needs clarification by a legal authority with expertise on charters and that creating a law before amending the charter is “like building a house without a proper foundation.”

Elliott said the voters are the only necessary corrective for officials’ problems.

“An elected official should not be penalizing another elected official. The voters will cure the problem, not the council,” she said.

Former council president Mike Hiob also spoke at length during the meeting against the code, asking council members to review it further because it violates the charter and reminding them of the “fiasco” of their decision to have a rotating council president position, which was later reversed because it was not clearly specified in the charter.

After the measure passed, Hiob, who lost to Bennett is last fall’s mayoral election, said he hopes the council members can still think and act independently.

“It doesn’t behoove anyone to rubber-stamp a mayor’s agenda,” he said.

Councilman Bruce Garner challenged Hiob’s comment.

“... I think this is best for the citizens of Aberdeen,” he said. “It will keep us honest. It will keep us open. It’s not directed to any one person, it’s directed at these five people sitting up here.”

Village of Carsins Run

Besides the code, the city council unanimously approved the preliminary plat for The Village at Carsins Run, the 680-unit, continuing care retirement community on 206 acres between Long Drive and Aldino-Stepney Road that was annexed in 2004. Presbyterian Home of Maryland, Inc. is the developer.

The community will include 141 independent-living cottages, 40 assisted-living apartments, 40 skilled-nursing apartments and a community center.

The property, which will be gated and cost $195 million to develop, will have private trash removal, water and sewer service, said Paul Muddiman, of Morris Ritchie Associates, the project engineer.

Attempting to show the project would create little burden on the community, Muddiman noted it will have its own library, emergency medical services and will generate low traffic.

It will also hire 200 employees and will provide an on-site gift shop, coffee bar, bank, free meeting room, indoor pool, daycare for children and adults, a fitness center, walking trails, movies, worship services and concerts that are all open to the public.

“This is a project that does not exist in Harford County. There is not a continuing-care [facility] in Harford County, as you know. Most folks that want a project like this either go into Pennsylvania or Baltimore County,” Muddiman said, adding that 484 households expressed interest in the community, with 83 percent of those interested being Harford County residents.

Construction would start in 2011, with residents moving in starting in 2013. The project will be built in multiple phases, and full build-out would take 12 to 15 years.

Councilwoman Ruth Ann Young said she was is concerned about traffic on Aldino-Stepney Road after a series of major accidents.

Mark Keeley, of Traffic Concepts, a consulting firm working for the developer, said the question of accidents is a state issue and said the volume of traffic at Aldino-Stepney during peak hours is so light that it did not merit looking into a signal.

“When you talk about accidents, that’s kind of a separate animal that elected officials have to take up with [State Highway Administration],” he said.

Colony at Beards Hill

The council also approved a zoning change for the Colony at Beards Hill property, between Beards Hill Road and Route 22. The land will now be B3 (highway commercial) instead of its split zoning of B3 and R2 (medium-density residential).

Young was the one council member to vote against the zoning change.

“I was representing the constituents that had spoken with me about their concerns,” she said. “As that piece of land is developed, and I’m sure this will come again, there’s a lot of deer over there and a lot of other wildlife, and I hope we can come up with some measures for dealing with that at that time.”

In other business, the council passed ordinances that will create regulations for auction houses and amended the requirements for off-street parking and loading.


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