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City councilman to introduce bills aimed at curbing mayor's power

City Councilman Bill Henry on Monday plans to introduce a series of bills aimed at reforming City Hall, including two that would curb some of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's power.

Henry's four bills will be introduced at what should prove a busy meeting for the council. A bill sponsored by Councilman Carl Stokes that would require many city agencies to be audited every two years is expected to receive a second vote, after failing last month. Plus, City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young is introducing bills aimed at tightening ethics laws and making it tougher for the mayor to close fire companies.

Henry's bills could reshape the look of the City Council, leaving it with fewer members but more power.

"A 'strong mayor' system of government may be the appropriate one for Baltimore," said Henry, a District 4 Democrat, "but it is so ridiculously strong now, it makes it hard for the supposed check and balance between the executive branch and the legislative branch to function."

One of Henry's bills would reduce the number of council votes needed to override a mayoral veto of a council bill from three-fourths to two-thirds of the council.

Another bill would allow the council to add funds to certain areas of the budget, after cuts from other areas. Last month, the council attempted to cut Rawlings-Blake's budget to add funding for recreation centers and fire companies but could only ask the mayor to restore the funding, not order it. The effort ultimately failed after Rawlings-Blake lobbied several council members to get them to vote against the effort.

A third bill of Henry's would add term limits for all the city's elected officials: two terms for those elected citywide and three terms for individual council members elected to represent a specific district.

A final bill would reduce the number of council members from 15 to nine.

"My hope is to start a conversation about whether the status quo is serving us as well as it could," Henry said. "If we find that it's not, then we should be talking about some ways to do things differently."

A spokesman for Young said he supports three of Henry's proposals, disagreeing only with the plan to cut the number of council members. A spokesman for Rawlings-Blake said the mayor hasn't taken a stance yet.

Young is also introducing a bill requiring the city's fire department to hold public hearings before it closes any more fire companies. Two were closed last week, and a third is scheduled to be closed in October.

Young will also introduce a bill seeking to tighten ethics laws by prohibiting city officials from accepting gifts from anyone who does business with the city. Current ethics rules prohibit accepting gifts from those who do business with an official's specific agency.

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