Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott released Wednesday a sweeping list of 26 priorities for the coming year, including more than half a dozen pieces of city legislation and major changes to the way the city is run.
Among the proposals are lowering the voting age in municipal elections to 16, creating a chief administrative officer to handle the day-to-day running of the city instead of the mayor, and instituting regular reviews of the city’s charter.
The Democrat formally announced his plans in a polished speech delivered from a teleprompter in the council chambers during the same hour as Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s weekly news conference.
“All of us are going to have to do something that Baltimore has refused to do for generations,” Scott said. “We must take an honest look at everything we do and assess what must change.”
Previewing the proposals Tuesday with The Baltimore Sun’s editorial board, Scott said they reflect an urgency city residents feel.
“No one has said to me since I was council president, ‘Brandon, we just want you to hold the line for 18 months,’" Scott said. "People don’t think the city has 18 months of line holding left. They want drastic, visionary, transformational change, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this document.”
The agenda takes Scott beyond a focus on crime and policing that established his reputation when he was chairman of the council’s public safety committee from December 2016 until May. His plan includes sections on racial equity, education, economic growth and the structure of city government.
Scott has said he is considering running for mayor himself. But in an interview with The Sun, he insisted the document is about what he will seek to do as council president and is not a foundation for a mayoral campaign.
“I don’t see this as a mayoral manifesto at all. It’s not,” Scott said. “This is a legislative priority document.”
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, declined to share the Democratic mayor’s thoughts on Scott’s policy proposals. Young is also considering whether to run for mayor.
“We don’t have a response,” Davis said.
Among Scott’s proposals:
» Reducing the power of the mayor by removing two of his appointees from the city’s spending board;
» Returning formal control of the police department to the city from the state;
» Ensuring the city’s public schools get more funding;
» Strengthening ethics oversight, calling the current setup “entirely inadequate;”
» Requiring city agencies to collaborate on a crime-fighting strategy.
The rollout of the 30-page policy document will include a month-long roadshow through the city to gain feedback.
City and state officials, business representatives and presidents of at least two local colleges packed the council chambers to applaud his speech. Former Democratic Mayor Kurt Schmoke, now president of the University of Baltimore, and Democratic council members John Bullock, Mary Pat Clarke, Zeke Cohen, Bill Henry, Danielle McCray, Sharon Green Middleton, Leon F. Pinkett III, Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer and Shannon Sneed attended.
Scott, who secured the council presidency in the shake-up that followed Democrat Catherine Pugh’s resignation as mayor in May, said he believes the agenda is achievable by the time the council’s current session ends in December 2020. He said that won’t mean rushing legislation through without careful consideration.
“We were very intentional about setting goals we believe that we can achieve," Scott said. "For me, I don’t like things easy. I’ve never been the person who wanted the easy route.”
Three of the proposals would require changes to the city charter that would have to be finalized by the council, signed by the mayor and submitted to voters in 2020.
Among them is lowering the voting age to 16 for municipal elections. Takoma Park in Montgomery County became the first city in the country to take that step in 2013 and the idea has attracted some national interest. Scott said young people in Baltimore deserve the right.
“A 16-year-old in Baltimore goes through, has to deal with and has to carry weight that would break most 40-year-olds in this country," he said. "They are well mature enough to make a decision on who they think can lead their city.”
Scott also pledged to build on legislation he sponsored that requires city agencies to study ways in which they might provide services unfairly along racial or economic lines and put money into a fund to combat any inequities. He wants legislation to be analyzed with equity in mind, along with a more traditional fiscal analysis, and said council members and their staff would receive equity training.
“We will have an equity framework in every single thing the city government does," Scott said.
Scott said he wants better coordination around the city’s YouthWorks summer jobs program, which provides minimum-wage placements to about 9,000 young people, and to help people getting out of prison find work.
The announcement of the policy agenda caps Scott’s transition to the presidency. In June, he shuffled committee assignments, further empowering the freshmen elected in 2016 who tilted the council’s politics leftward. And he has hired several key staff members to augment a team he inherited from Young.
Reactions to the proposal from council members who attended the event were generally positive.
Schleifer, whom Scott chose to fill his old position leading the public safety committee, predicted, “We’re going to look back many years from now at this day and realize that it was today, this plan, that was the start of generational change.”
“There’s a road map to success, to addressing decades old issues that have plagued our city,” Schleifer said.
Clarke said she was concerned about the idea of creating a city manager position, questioning whether it would make the government less accountable, but would see how the proposal shaped up.
“I know that with the best of intentions, professionalism of this nature very easily morphs into, let’s say, control, and then who is to be held responsible?” Clarke said. “It goes against my grain.”
Henry is running for comptroller — one of the three elected officeholders that have a seat on the Board of Estimates. Removing the two mayoral appointees from the board could dramatically weaken the mayor’s power over the city’s budget and spending on contracting. Also, just two board members could form an alliance to approve or block any particular expense.
Henry voted in favor of the idea of shrinking the board in 2016, but said Wednesday he would be “especially thoughtful as we review that proposal” because of how significantly it could alter the way the city is run.
“If you take away the mayor’s votes on the Board of Estimates you’ve eliminated the strong mayor entirely,” Henry said. “Now, your mayor is effectively whichever two members of the Board of Estimates are agreeing on a given week.”
Don Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, an influential group of business and civic leaders, said Scott’s plans were “great to see.”
“The council president has laid out an agenda and is preparing to take it to the community,” Fry said.
Del. Robbyn Lewis, a Democrat who represents Baltimore in Annapolis, said Scott’s speech was “inspiring,” and her first reaction was enthusiasm.
“He harnessed the core, driving optimism those of us who love the city have,” she said.