We’re not sure about each and every one of the 26 policy proposals City Council President Brandon Scott rolled out Wednesday morning in his sweeping plan for tackling Baltimore’s crime, corruption, troubled schools and disaffected youth. Some need a lot more fleshing out. Some may be difficult if not impossible to achieve anytime soon. Some describe things that are already happening to one degree or another. But collectively, they represent the most cogently presented, comprehensive agenda for moving the city forward that we’ve seen from a Baltimore elected official in quite some time. When voters swept out the old City Council and replaced its members with a young, ambitious set of leaders, this is what they expected. It’s a shame it’s taken us three years to get here.
The platform is so broad that it would be difficult to do justice to each of its ideas, which fall into the broad categories of reforming city government, increasing public safety, investing in city youth and fostering equity in city government. We’ve been supporting some of the specific proposals for years, like ending the city’s practice of requiring gag orders for plaintiffs in police misconduct settlements, shrinking the Board of Estimates from five members to three (provided it’s accompanied by a broader reform of the body’s role), restoring local control of the Baltimore Police Department and increasing the city’s contribution to the school system in conjunction with the Kirwan Commission reforms at the state level. We’re glad to see the plan’s focus on addressing the trauma victims of violence suffer from and its recognition that Baltimore should not be scrambling every year to find sufficient funding and opportunities for young people seeking summer employment through YouthWorks.
Other parts of it we’re less sure about. We appreciate Mr. Scott’s point that the city needs to do more to engage youth, but we’re not sure that lowering the voting age to 16 is the easiest or most effective way to do it. And while we support the idea of examining city policies, practices and investments through the lens of equity, we’re still a long way from understanding the extent of the problem, much less quantifying a solution or identifying an appropriate funding source for an Equity Assistance Fund.
One idea worth particular discussion is Mr. Scott’s proposal to establish a city administrator as part of a broader review of the city’s charter. This isn’t a new idea, and theoretically, it’s one that doesn’t need to be mandated through legislation or a charter change. Any mayor could appoint someone to handle the administrative tasks of the city government while he or she focuses on the big picture and setting the direction for Baltimore. But mayors have been distinctly uneven in the extent to which they prioritized good management, so there may be merit in institutionalizing such a function and particularly in staggering such an administrator’s term somewhat from the mayor’s so as to provide continuity (as Baltimore County does with its administrator). We don’t want a weak mayor system here, but we do believe the city has much to gain from a focus on delivering government services more efficiently and effectively.
Although Mr. Scott insists this set of policies has nothing to do with his potential run for mayor, and that these are things he wants to and expects to achieve during the 16 months he has in the role of council president, they will inevitably be viewed as a manifestation of his presumed personal ambition. To which we say, so what? When he ascended to the council presidency in the wake of former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s resignation, we wondered whether he would be able to use the post to demonstrate the same attention to and mastery of issues other than crime, which had heretofore been the defining focus of his career. These proposals give him the chance to answer that question and for voters to take the measure of his leadership.
A notable void in the conversation is the view of Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young about all this. Mr. Scott told The Sun’s editorial board during a meeting Tuesday that he hadn’t shared the proposal with him. If that reads like a passive-aggressive salvo in the jockeying for position in next year’s election between two people who have been sniffing around at campaigns for mayor, at least it’s one based on substance rather than pure politics. If the mayor wants to counter Mr. Scott’s policy document with one of his own, so much the better. We could do worse than a year-long debate about dueling plans for Baltimore’s future.