April 26th was a historic election for Baltimore; residents came out to vote at their highest rate in decades and chose nominees for what is all but certain to be the youngest City Council in modern history. The most important takeaway from this first election since last year's unrest should be that Baltimore wants change.
However, before the last ballot was counted, some began to question whether a "lame duck" mayor and City Council should continue to consider important city issues or leave them for the incoming leaders in December. Thus far, this idea has been mentioned mainly in regard to the pending Port Covington tax increment financing proposal. The Port Covington TIF is a monumentally important issue that should not be overlooked, but it is not the only pending legislation that would have citywide impact that is before the current City Council and mayor.
There currently exists an almost two-year-old piece of legislation that would authorize the sale of four of the 17 city-owned parking garages to raise up to $50 million to benefit Baltimore City Recreation and Parks Capital Plan. If the current crop of local elected officials wants to make an impact and push back against the notion of being a lame duck government, then this legislation must be immediately considered. Continuing to ignore this issue would result in political cherry picking of which issues to address, and that is unacceptable in post Freddie Gray Baltimore. This plan deserves to be heard and thoroughly vetted by the city council, now! Time is of the essence.
Baltimore's need for new and improved recreation facilities across the city is universally agreed on by Baltimoreans at a level equal to the belief that the 2000 Ravens defense was the greatest of all time. Baltimore City Recreation and Parks has presented a plan that will transform recreation throughout the city (any resident can view details of this plan at www.destinationgetactive.org). Unfortunately, Council Bill 14-0425 has languished in committee for nearly two years as City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young has vowed not to hear the bill until his demands are met by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
We are sure that the council president has some valid questions and concerns that caused the rift between him and the mayor on this issue. To his credit, Mr. Young has long been a staunch advocate for youth and has held his ground against four mayors on this issue. However, as leader of the council and a city-wide elected official, it is incumbent upon the council president to hold a public hearing so that all matters can be discussed and debated openly. This plan for a critically important infusion of capital dollars to improve our recreation centers is too important to not be heard. The personal concerns of the council president, mayor or council members should not stand in the way of something so important to our city's young people, especially on the heels of last year's unrest.
Moreover, it's very timely that this legislation is being discussed as advocates and supporters are pressuring City Hall to restore $4.2 million in funding for after-school programming to the city's budget. Undoubtedly as the City Council begins to debate with the mayor about the after-school funding, her administration will state that restoring the money will mean cuts to services elsewhere.
This pending legislation, however, offers a simple solution. We are asking that the mayor allot $4.2 million in funds from the sale of the garages, once approved by the council, to fund this year's gap in after-school funding.
Our message to the current flock of elected officials is simple: don't be lame ducks, and put the politics aside. Sell the garages to fund both recreation centers and after-school programming. Our children need 21st century recreation centers and after-school programs to flourish. They are counting on us to invest in them. We must work together to get this done and move forward. The time is now!
City Councilman Brandon M. Scott (firstname.lastname@example.org) represents the 2nd District. Also signing this piece are Del. Cory McCray of the 45th District, Sen. Bill Ferguson of the 46th District, all of whom are Democrats, and Shannon Sneed and Kristerfer Burnett, the Democratic nominees for City Council in the 13th and 8th districts.