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Baltimore City Council gives final approval to charter amendment that would create city administrator position

The Baltimore City Council gave final approval Monday to a charter amendment that would create a high-profile administrator position to oversee the city’s day-to-day operations alongside the mayor. City Hall is shown in a 2019 photo.
The Baltimore City Council gave final approval Monday to a charter amendment that would create a high-profile administrator position to oversee the city’s day-to-day operations alongside the mayor. City Hall is shown in a 2019 photo. (Jerry Jackson / The Baltimore Sun)

The Baltimore City Council gave final approval Monday to a charter amendment that would create a high-profile administrator position to oversee the city’s day-to-day operations alongside the mayor.

The bill will now go to Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s desk. It’s unclear how the mayor, who will leave office at the end of the year, will act on the legislation.

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Even if he signs it, voters still would need to approve the charter amendment in the general election.

City Council President Brandon Scott, who last month won the Democratic primary for mayor, has been championing this legislation since before he declared he was seeking Baltimore’s highest office. He argues that having a politically neutral chief administrative officer would make city operations more effective and efficient.

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The council passed the charter amendment by a 9-5 vote Monday, with one abstention.

Several surrounding jurisdictions employ an administrator to work with their county executive.

“We have to professionalize city government,” Scott said after the measure passed. “We’re hoping the voters will bring Baltimore into alignment with all the areas around us.”

In weighing in on the legislation, the city’s finance department cited research that suggests having a professional city manager can lower the chances of public corruption and improve internal structures.

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But the department also noted that such a job typically comes with a high price tag — which could be a particular concern as the city grapples with the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. The average administrator salary, calculated from eight similar jurisdictions, is nearly a quarter-million dollars, according to the finance department.

A council committee amended the bill to remove language that would have required the position come with a salary of more than $200,000.

City agencies also previously expressed concern this position could create “overlapping authority” between the mayor and the top administrator, and questioned the need to enshrine such a job within the city’s charter.

The city administrator would oversee municipal services, supervise agencies, help prepare the budget and advise the mayor on policy. The mayor would choose the administrator, whose hiring would need confirmation by the council.

This measure is one of several the City Council has taken on this year in an attempt to restructure Baltimore’s government.

Some members are seeking to weaken the power of future mayors following the “Healthy Holly” scandal that brought down former Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh. She is serving a three-year federal prison sentence for fraud and tax evasion after she sold self-published children’s books to companies with business ties to the city.

Young has criticized the council for moving too quickly to pass a series of charter amendments. He must now decide whether to sign, veto or let the bills pass without his signature.

If the mayor vetoes a measure, the council would attempt to override it.

Officials are on a tight deadline, with less than a month left for ballot questions to be certified in time to appear on the November ballot.

Voters typically approve ballot questions, barring fierce opposition campaigns. In 2016, for example, all 10 of the charter amendments and bond issues proposed won approval.

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