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Baltimore City Council cancels meetings until at least April due to coronavirus outbreak

Baltimore City Council will cancel its meetings until at least April in response to the new coronavirus outbreak, Council President Brandon Scott announced Thursday.

City Council had continued to meet regularly in spite of the virus, which was first confirmed March 5 in Maryland. Since then, the disease has continued to spread, sickening at least 107 people across the state, including eight in Baltimore City. It claimed the life of a Prince George’s County man Wednesday.

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Baltimore City Council last met March 9, and was next scheduled to meet Monday. Scott said that meeting will be delayed until at least April 6.

“As Council president, I have a duty to keep our members and the public safe,” the Democrat said in a news release. “At this time, we must do the responsible thing and cancel Monday’s meeting. My office will continue working towards a virtual alternative that will allow our members and Baltimore residents to participate remotely.”

Scott said his office is working on a system to hold virtual council meetings that would adhere to the Open Meetings Act, which requires the opportunity for the public to participate in a governing body’s meetings. Scott said he was mindful some city residents do not have reliable access to the internet or television.

“We’re going to go back to work on April 6,” Scott said Thursday, “but we have to make sure we’re keeping people safe. Safety comes first.”

All council hearings scheduled for March also have been canceled.

The council was slated to take a final vote at next week’s meeting on several charter amendments, including one that would reduce the number of votes needed to override a mayoral veto from three-fourths of the council to two-thirds.

The city’s Board of Estimates, which approves all city purchases, contracts and settlements, has continued to meet weekly, but has encouraged the public to watch via livestream rather than attend in person. Every other seat in the board’s meeting room has been left empty to prevent people from sitting next to one another.

Representatives from Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the council announcement.

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Baltimore historian Matthew Crenson said he believes it has been more than 150 years since the city was forced to suspend a portion of its elected government. That was during the Civil War, when Union forces occupied the city and had Mayor George Brown arrested and removed from office.

John Chapman, the former council president, ascended to the mayor’s office at the time, but Crenson said he’s found no evidence that City Council was meeting. The council would have been required to swear an oath to the Union, he said, which most of the board would not have done.

“They were paralyzed," he said. “My suspicion is they didn’t meet.”

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