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With new committee assignments, Baltimore Council president empowers freshmen members

With new committee assignments, Baltimore Council president empowers freshmen members
Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott, who assumed the job after Bernard C. "Jack" Young recently became mayor, conducts a council session. (Amy Davis / The Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott announced committee assignments Thursday, empowering the freshman class of council members elected in 2016 with leadership posts.

Scott has created several committees: health, transportation, investigations and a previously announced panel on cybersecurity.

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Freshmen will chair eight of the council’s now 13 committees, and the newly elevated chairs set forth sweeping agendas to tackle violence, poor public health and outdated infrastructure.

Councilman Kristerfer Burnett will chair both the new health and investigations committees, and is being promoted to vice chairman of the public safety committee. Councilman Ryan Dorsey will lead the transportation panel. Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer will take Scott’s high-profile spot as chairman of the public safety committee.

Like everyone on the council, all three are Democrats. They will be leading committees for the first time.

“The chairs and vice chairs of these council committee are the leadership team that I believe is best suited to begin the critical changes needed to move Baltimore forward,” Scott said in a statement.

“As I said on my first day as president, the council will be focused on the issues most important for Baltimore and these committees set a structure that will allow for that to happen.”

The transportation and investigations committees are being separated from other panels, while the health and cybersecurity groups are new.

Burnett said he did not expect to ascend to a chairmanship so soon in his career, but he feels ready for the job.

“We’ve had a lot since 2016 go down in City Hall, so I feel like a grizzled veteran,” he said.

In that period, the council has been responsible for vetting three police commissioner candidates at a time of high levels of violent crime. And it had a hand in bringing about the resignation of Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh last month, unanimously calling on her to step down.

It was Pugh’s resignation May 2 that led to Thursday’s shuffling of committee assignments. Her departure promoted Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young to her place. Scott then secured the backing of his colleagues to replace Young.

As council president, Scott is not assigned to any committees.

Burnett said he wants to use the health committee to more thoroughly examine how treating violence like a disease can help drive down crime. He also plans to look at the effects of lead paint poisoning and at the opioid addiction crisis.

“My hope is to use that position to not only push the narrative, but use it as a space for public health policy decisions to be at the forefront,” he said.

The investigations committee has authority under the city’s laws to compel testimony from witnesses, issue subpoenas for records and make criminal referrals, making it a potentially powerful oversight body. Burnett said he’s thinking through how to use its powers, but sees opportunities to follow up on work done by the city’s inspector general.

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“I want it to serve as more of an accountability arm and to really dig down into things,” he said.

Dorsey said the transportation committee will focus on setting out a vision for how people get around the city — especially the third of residents who don’t have a car — and what that will mean for economic development.

“The city’s development with the car at the center of its thinking and strategy is a big part of why there’s such unsustainable infrastructure and costs and why our communities are less safe and attractive in a lot of cases than they could be and should be,” Dorsey said. “Baltimore has no auto-oriented future of prosperity. We must develop a people-oriented future of prosperity.”

Schleifer said in a statement that the public safety committee would work to “ensure fair, just, and responsive public safety policies and agencies in Baltimore city.”

Councilwoman Danielle McCray, who took over Scott’s district seat, will serve as vice chairwoman of the taxation, finance and economic development committee, replacing Councilman Leon Pinkett. She will also be vice chairwoman of the investigations committee and join the budget, public safety, and labor committees.

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