ROCKVILLE – Sarah Farrell, assistant city clerk, will be appointed as acting city clerk at the Aug. 11 mayor and City Council meeting, according to Communications Manager Marylou Berg.
Ferrell will serve in the position held by Douglass Barber, who resigned effective Friday, Aug.8. Ferrell’s appointment will take effect Saturday, Aug. 9.
Long term deputy city clerk Brenda Bean, who served as acting city clerk after Glenda Evans resigned in 2011, told the mayor and council she will not serve as acting city clerk during the interim period due to personal reasons. Bean, who is a 25-year employee of the city, said she will retain her current position. Bean said she does not plan to apply for the city clerk job.
“I have some family issues I have to deal with. Most evenings, after work, I take care of my elderly father, so I was not able to do it this time,” Bean said.
One of the responsibilities of the city clerk is to serve as resident agent. The resident agent receives lawsuits and legal notices filed against the city. On July 21, the mayor and council voted to appoint city manager Barbara Matthews as temporary resident agent and one of the financial custodians for the city of Rockville who can sign checks on behalf of the city.
Mayor Bridget Newton cast the lone vote against making Matthews the temporary resident agent.
“We just don’t want the same person to have all of that control and ability. Not that there’s been a problem, I’m not insinuating or suggesting that. I’m just saying its good business practice to have segregation in those responsibilities,” Newton said.
At a community forum during the council meeting several citizens said they were upset with the move that gave Matthews the additional, albeit temporary, responsibilities.
“Let me be frank,” said Rockville resident Jacques Gelin during the forum. “Anyone who has observed the Mayor and Council in recent years must conclude that functions the Mayor and Council perform have largely become ceremonial. They sign proclamations and attend functions, but they do not effectively run this city, the city manager does.”
“I find, however, that the proposal to designate the city manager as resident agent troubling, mostly because it appears to amount to a change of the City’s charter, a matter of some importance that was only presented to you a few days ago and with no notice to the City’s residents,” Gelin said.
Former Mayor Steve VanGrack, who also chaired the city’s recent charter review committee, said if the move didn’t violate the city charter, it was problematic at best. “We went through a very thorough and careful process because any charge to the charter should be handled very carefully. I think there are definitely some problems here and I think the mayor and council will have to explain what they did and why they did it. I do not believe the city manager’s office should serve as the resident agent. The role of the resident agent should by that of the city clerk,” VanGrack said.
City residents also expressed dismay over the move because they claim it not only is counter to the city’s charter, but counter to transparency in government. “Rockville citizens are troubled by the city government’s lack of transparency. The passage of two resolutions transferring legal powers from the city clerk’s office to the city manager’s office was a change to the city charter, which required public notice and a public hearing, neither of which occurred. Even if the mayor and council rectified their unprecedented vote to change the city’s charter without a public hearing in a private executive session, why must they conduct the city’s business behind closed doors and not at the dais for all to see?” city activist Drew Powell said.
Matthews and city attorney Debra Yerg Daniel wrote the resolutions and posted them on Rockville’s website on July 18. Amendments become effective on Aug. 2. Rockville said the short turnover does not give residents ample time to give input about the changes.
City officials said the resolutions are not charter changes. In order to change the charter, the mayor and council must allow for public input.
“This was not a charter change. There are certain things you do when an employee leaves. This was not a controversial change, so I see no reason to give it to us a week early,” said Councilmember Tom Moore.
The mayor and council voted to amend the resolution to include the word “temporary.” The new wording in the resolution makes the transfer of responsibility effective until the appointment of the acting city clerk at the Aug. 11 mayor and city council meeting.