The Baltimore City Council won approval Wednesday to hire a former top state official to act as an independent lawyer while it considers the mayor's proposed wide-spread zoning changes. 

John T. Willis, who was secretary of state for eight years under Gov. Parris N. Glendening, will advise the council on the 350 pages of proposed changes, which range from changing zoning laws to encouraging development around transit stations to a proposal to cut down on liquor stores.

Willis will be paid $60-an-hour, for a total of $54,000, over the one-year contract.

"He'll be looking at the process and helping the council make sure the public is best-served," said Lester Davis, a spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

Davis said Willis also helped the council through a redistricting process and has proved himself "invaluable."

The council has also passed a bill that would provide it with a permanent independent lawyer, if voters authorize the deal next year. 

Luke.Broadwater@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/lukebroadwater