Baltimore City ballot issues center on imbalance of power

Voters: Start your balloting! Ballots in North Carolina get mailed out Friday
Posted at 5:31 PM, Oct 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-20 17:34:43-04

BALTIMORE — In Baltimore City, aside from elected officials, there are 11 ballot issues to be decided by voters and many have to do with the imbalance of power between the mayor and the Baltimore City Council.

"In Baltimore, we have a very strong executive branch, which would be the mayor, and we have a notoriously weak council when it comes to our authority," said City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett.

A power imbalance brought to light by former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s 'Healthy Holly' book scandal. At the time, the council could not remove her from office.

Now several charter amendments face Baltimore city voters to reshape some of the power dynamics.

"They do speak to the imbalance of accountability, the imbalance of power and it’s really about checks and balances," said Burnett.

In the midst of the investigation into Pugh, Burnett introduced a bill that would give the council power to remove elected leaders from office due to misconduct.

"We were receiving a number of questions and concerns from residents about why isn’t the council doing anything to rectify the situation and the answer was because we couldn’t," said Burnett.

If Question I passes, the council would be able to remove officials, including the council president, mayor or comptroller, by a three-fourths vote.

Another amendment, Question F, would increase the council’s power over the budget. Baltimore’s charter currently gives the mayor control of spending in the budget process, with the council only able to identify cuts.

"Every year, we hear 'Why aren’t you funding rec centers or the health department or school programs?' and frankly it’s a lack of accountability for us. We’d love to have a vote to expand funding for those programs but the mayor has almost complete control over the budget," said Burnett.

If question F passes, council members could increase spending within the city’s general fund or add new spending items.

Other ballot questions involve overriding mayoral vetoes. Question G would make it easier for the council by reducing the number of votes needed to override a veto from 12 votes to 10. Question H would increasing the amount of time the council has to do so to include the next city council meeting if it falls outside of the five to 20 day range currently set in the charter.

Baltimore City residents can also vote to create a city administrator position to work alongside the mayor and oversee the day-to-day operations of city government (Question K). Another amendment (Question J) would give the city auditor subpoena power.

"The ability to force an agency to hand over information that they may not want to hand over or that they may not want public and the more we can get out into the public, the better," said Burnett.

Baltimore City voters will also be asked to authorize four general obligation bonds (Questions A-D) to pay for $160 million in capital projects, including affordable housing, modernizing school buildings and public infrastructure.

The deadline to request a mail-in ballot is Tuesday.