xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Is a smaller Baltimore City Council better? Legislation is latest attempt at restructuring local government.

Should the Baltimore City Council shrink from 15 members to nine?

In his latest attempt at restructuring local government, Councilman Bill Henry introduced legislation Monday night that moves to reduce the size of City Council and calls for more members to be elected at-large.

Advertisement

He is pushing for there to be six districts, each represented by one member, and three citywide members. From those at-large members, the council would vote to appoint a president and vice president. The final citywide member would be the council’s representative on the city’s planning commission.

The structure of Baltimore’s City Council was last substantially changed in 2002 when it moved from six, three-member districts to 14, single-member districts. The council president continued to be elected by voters across the city.

Henry, who is now running for comptroller, said bringing on additional at-large members would give people more elected officials to turn to if they have a problem.

“You can go back to everybody having four different people who care about them no matter where they live,” he said during Monday’s council luncheon.

Henry said this is part of a package of legislation designed to “tweak” the power dynamic between the mayor and council. Baltimore’s strong-mayor system works well when there’s a great leader in office, he said. If not, he believes the set-up magnifies their faults.

The councilman said that over two decades of working inside and outside of City Hall on local issues, he’s watched Baltimore “roll snake eyes” on its elected officials too often.

“I’m looking to change the structure so that it’s not going to be such a crippling potential loss for the city if our mayor isn’t a great mayor,” Henry said.

He added that “when the council is smaller, their relative power to the mayor increases.”

Advertisement

Henry unsuccessfully proposed this change in 2012, and there was a failed attempt by Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector four years ago to transform the council into seven two-member districts.

It’s unclear how much traction a change will gain this time; he is currently the only sponsor. Councilman Eric Costello questioned Henry on what problem this legislation is trying to solve. After he finished explaining the bill, all Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said was “Wow.” And even if the all-Democrat council approved the measure, voters would still have to sign off on the change.

It could be one of a slew of government reform measures on the ballot for voters to consider as members of the progressive City Council continue to propose charter amendments that redefine power structures in Baltimore, including in several ways that would limit the mayor’s significant influence.

These attempts at change come after the “Healthy Holly” scandal in which former Democratic Mayor Catherine Pugh sold hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of self-published children’s books to companies that did business with the city. She is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to federal fraud and tax charge.

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

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 in line with their boss. Scott’s proposal would cut the mayoral appointees from the board, weakening a mayor’s control over city spending.

Advertisement

There are also proposed charter amendments that would give the council the ability to remove a mayor, create a city administrator position, reduce the number of votes needed to overturn a mayor’s veto and give council members more power over the budgeting process.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement