Reforms to curb Baltimore Mayor's powers opposed by... Baltimore Mayor

When former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh left office on her way to spend some quality time with correctional officers after pleading guilty to corruption charges, everyone appeared to agree that something needed to be done to rein in the strong, executive powers of the office. After all, Pugh was the second of the past three mayors of Charm City to leave office after being convicted of using their office for their own personal gain. Now, the City Council has put together a package of three bills designed to alter the city charter and return more control to the legislators serving on that body.

There’s supposed to be a vote on the entire package this week, but the move is being opposed by none other than the new, interim mayor, Jack Young. He would prefer that they take their time and not proceed to a floor vote until the summer when the public will have had more time to weigh in with any concerns they have. (Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young is urging the City Council to pump the brakes on a series of bills that would alter the way local government is structured and, according to his administration, could have “disastrous impacts” on city finances.

The young and progressive council is pushing about a dozen charter amendments, including several that would weaken Baltimore’s strong-mayor system. With three of those measures on Monday’s council agenda for preliminary approval, Young is pressing the lawmakers to slow down, move more deliberately and get additional public input.

“Simply put, there is no reason — and no public interest served — by advancing these amendments at this time,” he wrote in a letter Monday to City Council President Brandon Scott.

Imagine that. The sitting mayor is opposed to “rushing” into any amendments that would weaken the power of his own office. But there have already been multiple public hearings where the voters were invited to come and voice any possible objections and the proposals have been altered to reflect some of that input. At some point, they’re going to have to get off the stick and get moving on these reforms or they’re never going to happen. Besides, even if the measures pass, they won’t go into effect until they are put to a public referendum in the fall.

I’m not really trying to cast any aspersions on Mayor Young here. Ever since he stepped up to fill the rest of Catherine Pugh’s term, he has performed quite well by all accounts. The local press hasn’t detected so much as a whiff of any scandals coming out of his office, which is a decidedly pleasant change for the City of Baltimore. But it’s difficult to understand his objections. He would be keeping all the current powers of the mayor for the rest of his term. The changes would just apply to the next mayor.

That’s of particular concern when you consider how bad these reforms are needed and who the next mayor might wind up being. As we discussed here previously, the current leader in the polls is none other than Sheila Dixon. Do your recall how I mentioned above that Catherine Pugh was the second of the last three mayors to be arrested on charges of corruption? Do you know who the other one was who left under similar circumstances? If you answered “Sheila Dixon” give yourself a cookie. She was convicted of embezzlement and yet may still find her way back to the Mayor’s office.

Rooting all of the corruption out of the city government of Baltimore will be a long process, assuming it’s even possible. But changing the city charter to give the mayor less direct power in all aspects of governance, including having nearly unchallenged power in deciding who wins particular city contracts, would be a vital step in the right direction. Catherine Pugh leveraged that power to force all sorts of people with business before the municipal government to “purchase” hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of her self-published children’s books. (Many of which were never even printed.) If the denizens of Charm City are seriously considering returning a woman who was already convicted of embezzlement back to City Hall, these reforms should be rushed through on the blade of a bulldozer if necessary.

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