Williams Named Berlin’s Interim Mayor Till Election

BERLIN – Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale, who died last weekend, left behind quite a few major unfinished town projects and initiatives which the Berlin Mayor and Council and staff will need to carry on without his help, chiefly the expansion of the sewer plant and a new growth plan for the town.

Cardinale had planned to run for re-election in the fall in large part to finish off the work he had started when elected in a landslide in 2004.

“There are things in the works that will come to fruition,” said Berlin Council member Paula Lynch, referring specifically to the expanded and improved wastewater plant.

Council Vice President and interim Mayor Gee Williams said Cardinale did not live long enough to see the fruits of his labor.

“He really accomplished the beginning of some significant changes in the town,” said Williams. “He didn’t serve long enough to see those changes to fruition but he certainly got some started.”

The Mayor and Council collaborated closely on the work of the town, ensuring continuity in the face of unexpected losses like that of Cardinale.

The wastewater treatment plant recently was set back another 90 days to give the state more time to study the proposed changes, but the council and eventual new mayor will see the long process through.

The new comprehensive plan, handed over to an outside consultant earlier this year, is only in the beginning stages of development, with the historic district expansion Cardinale supported likely delayed until the visioning document is completed.

“I don’t think that we as a council should be making decisions, especially on the historic district, until we get this plan,” said Berlin Council member Ellen Lang.

The slowdown in the housing market has given the town breathing room to complete the comprehensive plan and create a wastewater capacity release schedule, Lynch said, which will dictate how the town grows in the future. The council will attempt to reach a balance between tight restrictions on growth and giving growth free rein, she said.

Cardinale came into office vowing to do something about the widespread flooding in Berlin. Last year, the Army Corps of Engineers completed a study, with recommended solutions, on how best to handle the improvements to the town stormwater system. In response, Cardinale formed an Infrastructure Committee to work out how to approach those recommendations. The committee is still working on its report.

“We’re at the beginning of the beginning,” Williams said.

Cardinale helped prompt the study into motion originally, when, before he was elected, he chaired the Henry’s Green Citizens Committee that was seeking a solution to flooding in the community. That committee sent a letter to Congressman Wayne Gilchrest (R-1), who got the Army Corps of Engineers involved. The study was funded in 2005 after Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) visited the town and Cardinale lobbied her for help.

The former teacher and Baltimore area resident also vowed to get the town’s debt, mostly due to the electric utility, under control, but the sale of the electric utility that would have resolved that debt dragged on for months and finally did not go through.

Colleagues on the council said that Cardinale, who had never served in public office before, did not realize how slow change could be when it comes to government projects.

One project Cardinale nearly saw to the end, the Flower Street sidewalk, will be completed in mid-May. Residents of the street have cherished the idea of a sidewalk for decades, but the project did not get under way until recent years with the award of a state grant.

“He was very, very proud of the Flower St. sidewalk,” Lang said.

Although the work will soon be finished on one side of the street, Councilman Elroy Brittingham and the council are now working on funding for a sidewalk on the other side.

Cardinale also made some changes to town personnel that benefited the town, Lynch said, such as the recent addition of a deputy administrative director.

Long-term projects are creeping slowly forward, but a shorter deadline is coming up for the fiscal year 2009 budget. Williams said the council would finish a responsible budget on time.

“The town government goes on,” said Lang.

Williams will serve as interim mayor until the election. With less than 180 days before the next Mayoral election on Oct. 14, the town code calls for an interim mayor rather than a special election. Although Williams works full time for the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, he will hold some office hours in Berlin.

Cardinale will be missed, but there is a chain of command, Lang said, and the council can handle it.

“It’s not going to keep us from getting the work done that needs to get done,” said Williams.

“We’ll just carry on as usual,” said Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary.

The council will be shorthanded for now with Cardinale’s death and Council member Dean Burrell out for an undetermined length of time after suffering a heart attack earlier this spring.

Lynch said that will not be a problem.

“We’ll all roll up our sleeves and do what we have to do,” she said.

As for the election in October, only former Mayor Rex Hailey has filed. The filing deadline is Sept. 8, with voter registration closing Sept. 12.

Lang has been rumored as a possible mayoral candidate, but would not discuss her plans right now. Her council seat is up for re-election this fall, as is Brittingham’s.

Williams would also not comment on running for the now open mayoral slot, saying it was inappropriate time to speculate.

However, Lynch made her intentions clear. She will not join the mayoral race.

“I’ve never been interested in running for mayor. I absolutely don’t have the time,” she said. “I can make a better contribution on the council.”

Council members Brittingham and Burrell were not available for comment.