Baltimore moves to create power to remove a sitting mayor

Could it really be happening? You guys… I think it’s happening. After decades of corruption and abuse of power, largely centered in a system where mayors hold tremendous centralized authority and influence, the Baltimore City Council has begun the process of rewriting the city charter. If the changes go through, they will have the power to remove a mayor from office with a vote of three-quarters of the council without needing a criminal conviction.

Giving the City Council power to force out Baltimore’s mayor is part of a package of legislative reforms being introduced Monday…

[Councilman Kristerfer] Burnett is the lead sponsor of a charter amendment that would allow the council to remove the mayor with the approval of three-fourths of its members. The council could consider such a vote in cases of incompetency, misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty or if a mayor committed a felony or misdemeanor. The process would include public hearings and investigations by the council and the city’s independent inspector general.

The council currently has the power to remove the comptroller, council president and individual members. The proposed amendment would create a process for removing the mayor that mirrors those powers.

You know things have gotten bad when fourteen Democrats (they hold every seat on the City Council) vote to gain the ability to remove a Democratic mayor. Councilman Burnett described the entire situation with Mayor Catherine Pugh as being, “incredibly embarrassing, incredibly disappointing.” I suppose that’s one way to put it.

Sadly, as we’ve discussed here previously, even if the vote goes through, these new powers won’t take effect until after the November 2020 election, assuming the voters approve it. Previously, the City Council attempted to use simple legislation to shift some power away from the mayor and allow for her removal back in 2016 after a different mayor was convicted of embezzlement. But the next mayor vetoed the measures. The council members are probably assuming (correctly) that the next mayor would do the same thing, so they’re doing it the hard way and it will take longer.

They need to think of something soon, though. Pugh has now been raided in multiple locations by the FBI and the IRS. Yet another of her colleagues from the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) has resigned after being caught up in the self-dealing scandal. The city is currently experiencing a power vacuum in terms of leadership, with the acting mayor being very guarded in his actions.

At the same time, just when strong leadership would be critical, things out in the streets aren’t getting any better. Eight people were shot at a backyard barbeque over the weekend, with one of the victims ending up dead. The gunman remains at large, as happens all too often in Charm City. Barely one-quarter of the murders in 2018 were cleared by the Baltimore Police Department. Gang violence remains endemic. The people of Baltimore deserve better, but their elected officials don’t deliver for them.