On the agenda for Jan. 23

12-0023 Charter Amendment—Municipal ElectionsWould shift municipal elections to presidential election years beginning in 2016.

The Read: “All of us recognize,” Councilmember Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (D-5th District) began in introducing this bill, “that the stand-alone election that is unique to Baltimore” must be altered. Municipal elections cost about $3.6 million to stage and see voter turnouts in the 20 percent range, and, as Spector added, “Election day should not be a spectator sport. It should be a participative sport.” Councilmember Robert Curran (D-3rd District) pointed out that in 2004 “we had a 70 percent turnout” that “cost the city of Baltimore zero. For all the right reasons, if you want to get the best person in office, you have to have the best turnout.” This bill requires both a city charter amendment and action by the state General Assembly. It is going to see opposition in the general assembly from the Baltimore City League of Women Voters, which has been pushing a bill to hold Baltimore elections on gubernatorial election years (2014, ’18, etc.) instead of presidential years. The arguments: The presidential cycle leaves the current Council crop in place for five years, instead of three. Presidential primaries are in April—seven months before the general election—which means that the primary winners (who are almost always the general election winners in this very Democratic town) will have a very long wait before taking office the following January (the gubernatorial primary is in June). And, perhaps most significant, if the city moves to the presidential schedule, city and state officials will be able to run for each others’ offices while hanging on to their current positions. If we take the gubernatorial schedule, the politicians will risk their present office whenever they try to jump. This could displease folks like state Sen. Catherine Pugh (D-40th District), who ran for mayor in 2011, lost, and returned seamlessly to the senate for the 2012 session.

12-0010R Informational Hearing—Property Tax ReassessmentsCalls a hearing with the state Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) representatives to talk about how they do what they do, and what you can do if you think your assessment is too high or otherwise erroneous.

The Read: Councilmember Carl Stokes (D-12th District) called this hearing as part of his push for comprehensive property-tax reform. The Baltimore Sun, meanwhile, has been doing excellent work parsing SDAT data to discover which prominent taxpayers are getting undeserved tax breaks, showing that—surprise—digging this stuff out and correcting it is not that hard to do.

On the agenda for Jan. 23 and Jan. 30

12-0012R Investigative Hearing—Baltimore City Environmental Control BoardCalls for the bosses of the dreaded Environmental Control Board (the trash ticket people) to explain their ways.

The Read: The city’s Through the Looking Glass (or is it “Alice’s Restaurant”?) system of meting out fines for bad trash behavior (i.e., if someone dumps garbage in front of your rowhouse, you get fined) has long irked the citizens who end up paying (“A Sprawling Mess,” Feature, March 23, 2011). As there seems to be no penalty for trashing huge swaths of East and West Baltimore, yet enforcement seems to focus on the small islands of citizenship (where the paying suckers are located), Councilmember Warren Branch (D-13th District) has summoned the executive director of the Environmental Control Board, plus Housing Director Paul Graziano, Fire Chief James Clack, Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld, Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot, and Director of Public Works Alfred H. Foxx to “clarify the purpose and process of issuing fines and citations; to address issues of due process, and; to identify measures that can be implemented to make the entire process more transparent and equitable.”

The next City Council meeting is Feb 6 at 5 p.m.

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