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Baltimore City amendments that would curb mayor’s power expected to pass

Just months after disgraced ex-Mayor Catherine Pugh went to prison for a self-dealing scheme, Baltimore voters are expected to pass amendments to the city’s charter that would curb future mayors’ power.

Most of the seven charter amendments would alter the power dynamics in city government when they would go into effect in early December. Charter amendments usually pass unless a concerted campaign is mounted against them, and each question showed more votes Wednesday for than against in early returns.

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Election Day results for the city and other jurisdictions have been delayed until Thursday due to the vote-uploading process from thumb drives taking far longer than expected.

One of the amendments, Question K, would create a city administrator position. The amendment was championed and introduced by Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott, a Democrat who won the mayor’s race Tuesday.

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Scott said the amendments will bring significant change to Baltimore.

“Baltimoreans voted for change. That change was with me being the next mayor, but they also voted to change the way that their government operates," Scott said late Tuesday. “Our citizens deserve a professionally run city government that works hard every day in a 21st-century way to be an equitable city that serves every single citizen, no matter their ZIP code.”

The nonpolitical, appointed city administrator would work alongside the mayor and oversee the day-to-day operations of city government.

“It would mean we’d have a professionally run city government that would be run like our surrounding jurisdictions, like D.C. and Philadelphia, that are high-functioning governments,” Scott said. “It’s about making sure we’re meeting the best practices but also that we’re professionalizing a city government that has been everything but that in recent years.”

Democratic Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and several former mayors opposed the amendment, with Young accusing Scott of wanting to punt the responsibilities of the mayor’s office and merely “cut ribbons.”

There has been an appetite among some council members for checks on the mayor’s power after Pugh’s downfall, which followed an earlier scandal involving then-Mayor Sheila Dixon. Pugh began a three-year federal prison sentence in June after she pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion related to the sales of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books. Dixon, one of Scott’s primary opponents this spring, resigned as mayor in 2010 after being found guilty of embezzling gift cards intended for the poor.

Dixon was among those former mayors against the administrator amendment.

“I believe the buck stops at the mayor,” Dixon said Wednesday. “With the right team and the concept that I used — the deputy mayor concept — was working very effectively."

“But it’s clear that the voters want to see a real change and more accountability. So, prayerfully and hopefully, the new elected mayor, Brandon Scott, won’t make the administrative position political and will find the best-qualified person.”

Voters are expected to pass Question I to allow the City Council to remove a mayor, council members, the council president or the comptroller for misconduct with a three-fourths vote.

Voters' expected approval of another amendment, Question F, would give the City Council significantly more power over the budget. Previously, the council has been able to only make cuts to the mayor’s budget, and has not been able to reallocate the savings to other areas of the budget. The change to the charter would allow the council to move funds around via a majority vote of council members.

Two other ballot questions that are expected to pass would make it easier for the City Council to override a mayor’s veto of legislation.

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The Question G amendment would reduce the number of council votes required to overrule a veto from three-fourths to two-thirds. The council also would have more time to address a mayoral veto, with the expected passing of Question H, when it doesn’t have a regularly scheduled council meeting during a window in which vetoes are supposed to be considered for overrides.

The city auditor also would have the power to issue subpoenas compelling city officials, employees and people receiving city funds to produce documents after Question J was expected to pass. Question E, which it is expected voters have also approved, would require a charter revision commission to be appointed every 10 years to check the charter for any necessary changes.

Four bond measures (Questions A-D) totaling $160 million for capital projects related to affordable housing, schools, infrastructure and economic development, are expected to pass.

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