As one of his first acts back at City Hall, City Council President-elect Nick Mosby wants to spend more than $700,000 to hire nine people for his staff, saying they would be analysts needed to study the costs and consequences of all proposed legislation so Baltimore can avoid the mistakes of its past.
He outlined his vision Thursday to restructure the office of council president, including the plan to increase his staff to 37 people after he’s sworn in next week.
Mosby, a Democrat representing parts of central, West and South Baltimore in the state House of Delegates, said the new jobs would be modeled on staff in the Maryland Department of Legislative Services in Annapolis. Workers there develop a written financial analysis of bills to help General Assembly lawmakers decide how to vote.
With such information in hand, the council president and 14 council members would be empowered to do more to help Baltimore than fixing potholes and boarding up vacant houses, Mosby said in an interview.
“I no longer want the council to be a body that is there solely for the purpose of constituent services,” he said. “It’s my idea of trying to professionalize the council in a way that’s never been done.”
The idea to expand his new staff puts him at odds with the current president, Democratic Mayor-elect Brandon Scott.
As council president, Scott chairs the five-member Board of Estimates, which took up in October whether to approve the positions at the request of Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
“We’re in the middle of a devastating public health pandemic. We’re also laying off 68 longtime, front-line city workers. We know at a time like this, we have to — have to, have to! — make sure we are looking every single place to operate the most efficiently,” Scott told the other board members. “Creating nine high-paying, white-collar positions within City Hall while our essential workers are being laid off doesn’t make sense.”
That set off a tense exchange with Young.
“This is all political,” Young told Scott. “You would cause a fight between you and the [City Council] president. What I’m trying to do is avoid that and make this a smooth transition.”
Young controls three votes on the board, and it approved the positions on a 3-2 vote, with Scott and Democratic City Comptroller Joan Pratt opposing.
But the approval came without funding, and Scott is taking no action to deliver the money, said Stefanie Mavronis, his spokeswoman.
“When we talk about this whole ‘Defund the Police,’ I think that was emotional. The council needs to be a body that is making decisions not off emotions, but evidence-based analysis.”— Baltimore Council President-elect Nick Mosby
Scott shares Mosby’s desire to see the council make financially sound decisions, she said.
“The mayor-elect is going to work with the incoming council president to ensure those shared goals can be accomplished with existing resources,” Mavronis said. “We just have to be very clear about the fiscal crunch facing the city due to COVID-19.”
She said that in the mayor’s office, Scott will eliminate vacant positions to hire a city administrator and deputy while avoiding putting new salaries on the books.
Mosby, who served on the council from 2011 to 2016, maintains the analysts are critically important after city voters approved an amendment last month to expand the council’s authority over Baltimore’s $3 billion budget.
Historically, the council could make cuts to the mayor’s budget, but not reallocate the savings. City residents voted to amend the charter and grant the council authority, starting in July 2022, to move money around.
“It’s literally putting Baltimore City’s budget in the wild, wild West,” Mosby said.
It remains to be seen how the change will affect the budget process. It could lead to showdowns between the mayor and City Council over how to spend the money. The mayor’s office already receives financial analysis provided by the city Department of Finance.
The City Council, meanwhile, has no financial analysts of its own, Democratic Councilman Eric Costello said.
“We are, from a staff perspective, grossly outmatched by the Department of Finance,” Costello said. “A city council in a major American city needs financial analysts to make informed decisions.”
“Creating nine high-paying, white-collar positions within City Hall while our essential workers are being laid off doesn’t make sense.”— Baltimore Mayor-elect Brandon Scott
Maryland Policy & Politics
In arguing the need for analysts, Mosby pointed to blunders of the past, such as a city-owned Hilton Baltimore Hotel that has lost $83 million in the decade since it opened. He found fault with $22 million in budget cuts to the Baltimore Police Department — an answer last spring to calls nationwide to “Defund the Police” after officers in Minneapolis killed George Floyd.
In Baltimore, protesters wanted money cut from the police department and delivered instead to social services and community resources to get people in need help, rather than get them arrested. But even if the council had had the power to reallocate the funds, Mosby said, $13 million of the cuts were grants to the police department that couldn’t be spent elsewhere.
“When we talk about this whole ‘Defund the Police,’ I think that was emotional,” he said. “The council needs to be a body that is making decisions not off emotions, but evidence-based analysis.”
The office of the council president currently has a six-person Office of Council Services. An online directory lists the staffers as policy and financial analysts, but Mosby said their work is mostly clerical in practice. The director of the office did not return Thursday a message seeking comment.
Mosby also wants to reduce the number of council committees from more than a dozen to five or six.
And as the incoming chair of the Board of Estimates, Mosby suggested rethinking a practice of awarding contracts to the lowest bidder. Oftentimes, he said, a bidder will increase costs later with change orders. He suggested officials monitor contractors to track whether the jobs were finished on time and under budget.
In recent months, Mosby has faced questions about his personal and campaign finances. The Baltimore Sun reported in October that the Internal Revenue Service placed a $45,000 federal tax lien on his properties, including the home he shares with his wife, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, also a Democrat. Nick Mosby said Thursday he has paid off the lien.