The late John T. Clark, III, Judge of the District Court of Maryland for Queen Anne’s County, was as wise a jurist as they come. He used to advise defendants at arraignment, “If you have a plumbing problem, hire a plumber. If you have a legal problem, hire a lawyer.”

We suggest the same to the Chestertown Town Council. We are more than three weeks past the sudden resignation of Mayor Chris Cerino on April 5. According to the town’s charter, the council must appoint a new mayor within 45 days of the resignation–by May 21.

On day 46, the Chestertown Board of Elections Supervisors will step in and hold a special election for a mayor to serve the balance of Cerino’s term, which expires at the first town meeting in January of 2022.

At the April 19 council meeting, Town Manager Bill Ingersoll proposed rotating council members into the mayor’s chair every two weeks–believing the 45-day deadline would get pushed back each time and negate the need to appoint a full-time acting mayor.

But by the end of last week, Ingersoll’s idea was shot down by the town’s attorney, Stewart Barroll.  He said the charter should be taken literally and that May 21 was the hard deadline to appoint a new mayor. Ingersoll acknowledged this in an email to council members on April 23.

Barroll was absent from any public discussion when Ingersoll made his proposal.

We appreciate that Ingersoll has served the town for nearly 50 years, most of those years as town manager. He is most knowledgeable about town operations. Yet during his years of service no previous mayor resigned from office. His first inclination should have been to invite the town attorney to the council meeting the night he announced Cerino’s resignation to give proper advice.

A month will have passed since the resignation before the council meets again. We hope the town attorney is on the agenda.  For much of the past two decades, Chestertown has adopted a “no lawyers” approach. The town attorney is rarely called to meetings. The planning commission and historic district commission operate without an attorney as well, relying on staff to answer code and policy questions.

The delay created by the short-lived Ingersoll plan underscores the need for the council to restore its control of town government. It starts by the elected officials including the town attorney in the transition process.

The Kent Pilot