A petition drive seeking a referendum on a proposal to remake the City Council into 18 single-member districts is in danger of failing because the drive's leaders did not file financial disclosure statements with the election board.
The city Board of Supervisors of Elections is scheduled to meet Monday to decide the fate of the petition effort.
Last week, city Finance Director William R. Brown Jr. wrote a letter to elections board officials saying he could not certify the 15,159 signatures turned in Aug. 12 by the drive's organizers. Brown said he could not certify the petition because it was not accompanied by financial disclosure information as required under state law.
"The law says that the financial disclosure statement is to be filed at the same time as the petitions," said Barbara E. Jackson, administrator of the election board.
"Our attorney, along with the city Law Department, feels that all parties involved should meet and discuss whether the Republican Party was given adequate information on the procedures for the petition drive and whether they knew what had to be done with financial disclosure," Jackson said.
The oversight could mean that the question will not appear on the ballot for the Nov. 5 general election. The group needed 10,000 signatures by Aug. 12 to place the question on the ballot.
The petition drive was launched by a group called Baltimoreans for Fair Representation, which was organized by Republican activists. The groups seeks a ballot question on remaking the council into 18 single-member districts.
Currently, Baltimore has six councilmanic districts, each of which has three council members. The council president is elected citywide.
David R. Blumberg, head of the city Republican Party, said his group knew nothing of the financial disclosure requirement until yesterday.
"I felt we were really misled in this," Blumberg said. "We were given a packet of ballot question materials by the elections board, but we were not given the financial disclosure forms that apply to ballot questions."
Blumberg said he is not optimistic that the election board will accept that explanation. "The politicians don't want this on the ballot. I'm sure they are going to use this technicality to fight it at the elections board," he said.
He added that his group would have been happy to file its disclosure forms if it had only known of the requirement. "We raised $1,410," he said.
Blumberg said that if the election board refuses to accept the petition, his group will sue to have the ballot question appear on the ballot. "We had 160 people working on this since April 6," he said. "Thousands of hours went into this effort. . . ."
Organizers of the petition drive said 18 single-member districts would make it easier for council members because they would represent constituents in smaller areas. Blumberg has played down suggestions that single-member districts would be likely to increase the chances of a Republican being elected to the council.
In Baltimore, Democratic registered voters outnumber Republicans by about 9-1. A Republican hasn't been elected to the council since 1939.