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Baltimore City Council president introduces bill that would weaken mayor’s control over city spending

The Baltimore City Council could once again attempt to limit the mayor’s power over city spending by reconfiguring the Board of Estimates. In this Sept. 18, 2019, file photo, Council President Brandon Scott and Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young listen to City Solicitor Andre Davis speak during a board meeting.
The Baltimore City Council could once again attempt to limit the mayor’s power over city spending by reconfiguring the Board of Estimates. In this Sept. 18, 2019, file photo, Council President Brandon Scott and Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young listen to City Solicitor Andre Davis speak during a board meeting.(Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore City Council could once again attempt to limit the mayor’s power over city spending.

Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott on Monday night introduced legislation calling for the Board of Estimates — which approves all purchases, contracts and settlements worth more than $25,000 — to be reconfigured.

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The five-member board is made up of the mayor, the council president, the comptroller and two mayoral hires — the city solicitor and public works director. The latter two traditionally vote with their boss, the mayor.

Scott’s proposal would cut the mayoral appointees from the board, weakening a mayor’s control over the city budget.

Scott, who is running for mayor, said the change would increase transparency and improve discussions on how tens of millions taxpayer dollars are spent.

It would also mean that two board members could team up to determine the outcome of any particular expense.

The board’s operations came under increased scrutiny after revelations about former Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh’s book sales to organizations with business before the city. She pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion and is awaiting sentencing.

“The only thing that can change the dynamic is structural change,” Scott said. “That’s how we fundamentally change how Baltimore operates.”

The City Council unsuccessfully tried four years ago to restructure the board. Bernard C. “Jack” Young, then council president and now mayor, backed the change, which was eventually vetoed.

The measure is a charter amendment, meaning it would need voters’ approval to become law.

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A spokesman for Young declined Monday to comment.

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