Ballot questions asking city voters to establish term limits, take back city control of the Baltimore Police Department and restructure oversight of the inspector general’s office passed easily Tuesday.
City voters were asked to consider 11 questions this fall, some of which called for charter amendments and others allowing the city to borrow money. All passed Tuesday night as results from early voting, most Election Day precincts and some mail-in ballots were released. Additional mail-in ballots have yet to be counted.
Ballot questions rarely fail in Baltimore. In the last two decades, only one, a proposal to lower the minimum age to serve on the Baltimore City Council, has failed.
The most talked-about ballot question would establish term limits for Baltimore’s mayor, comptroller and the City Council. Officials would be limited to two four-year terms in each office. The cap would not begin until 2024, and the count of terms would start that year — even for longtime officeholders.
David Smith, chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, contributed $525,000 to the effort to get the issue onto the ballot and to lobby for its passage. Sinclair owns hundreds of television stations, including local Fox 45. Opposition was organized by professor Larry Gibson, the Baltimore NAACP and the local AFSCME, who accused the media mogul of meddling in local elections.
Despite the controversy surrounding the question, 72% of voters said they favored term limits with almost all Election Day precincts reporting.
In anticipation of the ballot question passing, the Baltimore City Council on Monday voted in favor of adjusting the city’s pension plan for elected officials to allow vesting after eight years, the equivalent of two terms, instead of the current 12. The vote, which was 9 to 2, was approved over objections from city retirement and finance officials, who warned that the move will cost the city as more officials become pension-eligible.
Baltimore voters were also asked this cycle to consider a charter amendment that would return control of the city’s police department to city officials. The police department has been under state control since 1860, when state officials took over in hopes of quelling deadly political street fighting under the reign of the Know-Nothing Party.
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While Baltimore taxpayers have remained responsible for funding the department, city officials did not regain the ability to pick the city’s police commissioner until 1976.
About 83% voted in favor of the amendment, which would take effect this year.
Another proposal put to voters would restructure the board that oversees Baltimore Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming.
Cumming lobbied for a change to the board’s composition to remove elected officials or their designees from the group, which is supposed to convene annually to review the performance of Baltimore’s watchdog for waste, fraud and abuse.
The board currently includes multiple elected officials or their designees, the city solicitor and, on an optional basis, the deans of the city’s two law schools.
The proposal calls for each City Council member to select a nominee. From that pool, seven board members would be selected at random. Four additional members would be selected at random from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners or the Association of Certified Public Accountants. The deans of the two law schools or their designees would remain on the board.