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Wicomico politicians take the lead in Maryland

DELMAR — The small town too large for one state is about to walk toward the center of Maryland’s political stage.

For the next year, Delmar Mayor Carl Anderton Jr. will serve as president of the Maryland Municipal League, representing a constituency much larger than the town’s 3,000 residents.

The title means the Lower Shore born-and-raised politician will play a significant role in the state’s premier association for Maryland cities and towns.

His appointment also means more clout for the region during the next six months, as Anderton begins his yearlong term at the Municipal League and Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt continues his presidency of the Maryland Association of Counties.

“In high school, I was sitting there and they were always asking me what I wanted to do with my life, and now, here I am mayor of my town and I’m president of the MML,” he said. “I have the responsibility of advocating on behalf of 157 other towns, including my own. That’s tremendous.”

During their terms, both men will meet with local government leaders and state government officials. Most of the handshaking and nodding will be on behalf of the organizations, but the bonds they establish with department secretaries, key staff members and other local leaders will likely have an impact beyond their presidencies.

“It is unusual we do have the county and the city both represented at the top level, so I think it’s an opportunity to show we are up to the task,” Pollitt said.

Pollitt became president of the Maryland Association of Counties in January, serving in a very similar role as Anderton, except he is within the advocacy organization for county government.

While the overlap will not fall during the 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly, which begins every January, it will put the Lower Shore more toward the forefront of local governance.

It also gives both the mayor and the county executive a platform to push forward policies that could benefit local residents and business owners.

“It’ll be interesting with County Executive Pollitt being the MACo president for another six months,” Anderton said. “It’ll be interesting to see if we can find common ground; it’s out there, we just have to find it.”

So far, Pollitt has worked with the county association to decouple the personal property tax and real property tax at the state level, get counties a seat at the table for state pension discussions and to advocate for other business-friendly initiatives.

Anderton hopes to do something similar but wants to start a discussion about changes that could help citizens. At the top of that list are highway-user revenues being returned in full to local coffers and a required yearly meeting between towns and counties on the tax differential.

Having residents in cities like Salisbury pay municipal and county taxes, especially for several services they don’t use, he said, doesn’t make sense.

“That’s something that hits home here,” Anderton said. “You’re paying taxes for thinks you’ll never use. Why?”

He doesn’t want to mandate whether a differential is used, but does hope to pass a law through at the state level requiring county government to meet with towns once a year to examine the issue in detail.

The two have yet to sit down and discuss where and how their goals might intersect, but Pollitt said he hopes knowing each other will help reduce some of the competition that has existed before between the Municipal League and Association of Counties took hold.

“I think the overriding thing is that Carl (Anderton) and I already know and respect each other,” Pollitt said. “The fact that we represent our statewide agencies should really give us an opportunity to do some good work, and not just for our county but for constituents statewide.”

Small town, high-tech

While working with Pollitt will be part of Anderton’s role, a much greater amount of his time will be spent working within the Municipal League to appoint committees and move the organization forward.

Among the first tasks, Anderton will be responsible for selecting the legislative committee, which works with and for towns and cities during the Maryland General Assembly.

He said the responsibility and chance to improve governance at home and throughout Maryland is beginning to sink in.

“This is my kids’ home; this is going to be where they raise their children. So anything we can do to better their quality of life or their potential for quality of life, I think we are obligated,” he said.

As part of the Municipal League’s mission to support and protect local government, Anderton will work closely with full-time staff members, including Executive Director Scott Hancock.

“Carl’s role as president for the next year will be the leader of the board and will be responsible coordinating the work plan for MML’s board,” Hancock said. “The board is the overall governing body, just like the city council in Salisbury or Pocomoke City or Delmar would set the policies for the particular town or city, the board of directors does the same thing for the league.”

The two have already gotten to know each other during the last year when Anderton served as president-elect. Knowing his work for the Municipal League and the town of Delmar, Hancock thinks Anderton will do a “superb” job.

Former Salisbury mayor Barrie Parsons Tilghman served as league president from 2004-2005. She said the ability to work for one’s town as well as all the others in Maryland has far-reaching benefits.

“It always puts the city in a very positive light,” Tilghman said. “It also gives us a position to not only advocate for the league but to know a lot of people in the state.”

Incorporating the accessibility of a small-town mayor with the technological footprint of a city politician, Anderton’s year leading the Municipal League’s board will likely be unique.

Sitting in a sparsely decorated office at Delmar’s city hall, the tablet’s screen lights up every few minutes with a new email. The small square at the center let’s him know who sent the message. Some can wait for a later reply, others need to be taken care of sooner.

His iPad and Droid smartphone allow Anderton to keep up with emails about projects in Delmar as well as connect with Municipal League staff members in Annapolis.

“I don’t think I’ve set at a desktop in two years,” Anderton said.

While Anderton’s use of resources isn’t that different from most Maryland politicians, it is different for the Eastern Shore. His tweets and Facebook posts are an uncommon component of small towns on the Lower Shore, where many mayors and city council members don’t have an account, let alone use it.

The mayor’s Twitter feed has become an online extension of his personality with 140-character messages about Delmar’s progress on the public safety building, local news and support for the Baltimore sports teams of which Anderton is fond.

But Anderton still embraces the quintessential character traits of small-town politicians.

During Hurricane Sandy, he and the council drover through the streets. Afterward, he helped move downed tree limbs from roadways.

On a more everyday basis, Anderton frequently gives out his cellphone number to neighbors and community members who have questions or need his help solving a problem.

Even with his enhanced role as the voice of mayors and councils throughout Maryland, Anderton said he still sees himself as an Eastern Shore native trying to help out.

“I’m not a politician. I don’t see myself as one anyway,” Anderton said. “I just see myself as someone who wants to get the best they can for the place they call home.”