Voters to decide on Baltimore schools fund, council age

Voters who cast ballots in Tuesday's general election will have a chance to weigh in on two issues concerning the city's younger residents.

One of the charter amendments would put aside money for repairing and building schools, an initiative inspired by an American Civil Liberties Union report that found city schools needed $2.8 billion in work to fix damaged windows and doors and heating and cooling systems, among other problems.

The other amendment would give residents as young as 18 the right to serve on the City Council. Currently, council members must be at least 21.

Education advocates say the school spending question would have been more significant if the council had not cut a provision that would have given it more power to steer money into the fund. The change came at the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who heads the council's education committee, said the weakened measure could still achieve some good because it "focuses the city's attention and the public's attention on this issue."

Clarke said that without the provision, there could be no guarantee that the proceeds of a tax or fee would fund school repairs.

"It can be promised left and right, but unless you have a dedication of funds by law, funding can be diverted," she said.

The measure would enable officials to consolidate funds from private donors for school construction and it would allow the money to be carried over from year to year.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Councilman James B. Kraft introduced a bill to create the charter amendment last year, a few months after the release of the ACLU report. The city finance department objected to the provision allowing the council to dedicate proceeds from fines and fees to the fund, saying it impinged on the ability of the administration to make spending decisions.

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said the fund could allow officials to raise a significant amount of money for schools through grants and donations.

"If you're working hard and having successful campaigns, you'd be able to raise just as much money if not more," he said.

Rawlings-Blake appointed a task force a year ago to analyze the school facilities issue and instructed them to release their findings by February. A report has yet to be released.

Mayoral spokesman Ryan O'Doherty said in an emailed statement, "The work of the task force has already helped to identify over $120 million in new funds for school construction over the next 10 years, with more to come."

He said that residents could expect to "hear more on this subject in the next two weeks."

City Council age

Councilman Robert W. Curran, who introduced the measure lowering the age of eligibility for the council, said he hoped to inspire an interest in politics in young people.

"There is a vacuum of leadership behind us," Curran said of the council.

"We don't have enough young people to succeed the dinosaurs of the City Council, the Rikki Spectors, the Ed Reisingers and the Bobby Currans," said Curran, naming members who had served several terms. Spector, who is referred to as the "dean" of the council, took office in 1977.

Currently, William H. Cole IV is the youngest council member at 38. But the upcoming election could significantly lower the average age of the council. Nick Mosby, 32, beat incumbent Belinda Conaway in the Democratic primary for the 7th District seat — Conaway has launched a write-in bid. Brandon M. Scott, who secured the Democratic nomination in the 1st District, is 27. And Shannon Sneed, who is running a vigorous write-in campaign against incumbent Warren Branch in the 13th District, is 31.

Curran said that low voter turnout — fewer than 23 percent of registered voters cast a ballot in the September primary — demonstrated a need for young adults to get interested in the electoral process.

And, he said, it did not make sense that 18-year-olds are allowed to join the miliary but not serve on the council.

"If we allow these young people to put their lives on the line to fight for freedom, why not allow them the freedom to serve on the City Council?" Curran said.

Curran acknowledged that it was unlikely that a teenager could win an election, but said that the council would welcome a youthful member.

"If you put yourself through the meat grinder of elections and you win that seat, you'll win the respect of your colleagues," he said.