Baltimore's strong mayor remains stronger than the City Council

City Council fails to override mayor's vetoes of proposed charter amendments that would weaken mayor.

The City Council failed to override Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's veto of two bills calling for charter amendments that would allow the City Council to increase the city's budget and revamp the Board of Estimates, which controls city spending. 

"This is an opportunity for the people to vote its opinion, and the council says no," City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, who backed the proposed charter amendments, said afterward. "We get an opportunity to stand up, and we sit down!"

The first bill would allow the City Council to add money to the budget the mayor prepares each year. Currently, the council can only cut the budget—which it never does because people clamor for more spending on programs. When the council has cut specific programs in the budget and urged the mayor to spend the money on other priorities, the mayor has summarily vetoed those changes. 

The proposed charter amendment originally passed the council by a vote of 14 to 1, with only 2nd District Councilman Brandon Scott opposed. Tonight it failed 10-4, with Scott, 3rd District Councilman Robert Curran, 6th District Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, and 7th District Councilman Nick Mosby voting against. Except for Scott, all the "no" votes are leaving the council, either retiring or because they lost election for mayor. Ninth District Councilman William "Pete" Welch, who lost his reelection campaign, originally voted "no" as well, but then petitioned to change his vote after the measure failed.

Welch's request prompted some confusion and grumbling. 

"I can't believe we are actually voting on whether Pete will be able to change his vote that won't matter," 4th District Councilman Bill Henry said, before voting to allow him to do just that. 

The second bill would remove two mayoral appointees from the Board of Public Works. There are currently five members: the mayor, the city solicitor and Public Works director (both of whom the mayor can hire and fire), the comptroller, and the city council president. A three-member board would check the mayor's control of city spending. That bill was originally passed by a 12-1-2 vote, with Mosby voting "no" and both Scott and 14th District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke abstaining. Tonight, Clarke voted "yes," along with Young, Henry, Welch, 6th District Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton, 8th District Councilwoman Helen Holton, 10th District Councilman Edward Reisinger, and 12th District Councilman Carl Stokes.

Both bills needed 12 votes in order to override the veto. 

Also introduced were two bills that would offer tax breaks to Under Armour founder Kevin Plank's enormous Port Covington development. The Tax Increment Financing (TIF) scheme would save the company, Sagamore Development, $500 million in property taxes but would cost taxpayers some $1.4 billion to fund. The development is expected to pay it back by putting $1.7 billion in other taxes in the city's coffers over its lifetime—money that would never have been collected otherwise.

Also introduced: a resolution by Clarke and Middleton proposing "Fair Development Standards" for publicly-subsidized developments. 

"BE IT RESOLVED BY THE MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL OF BALTIMORE, That the improvement of the standards of living of the citizens of Baltimore, particularly those with the greatest need, shall be regarded as the principal objective in the planning and provision of public city subsidies for economic and community development, including tax expenditures," the bill says.

It calls for fair distribution of any public benefits arising from TIF project, fair wages for anyone who works on them, the "right to be protected from involuntary displacement," and the right to "publicly subsidized economic or community development plans that increase racial and ethnic inclusion."

The City Council will be examining the Port Covington TIF with all this in mind, says Clarke, adding that the resolution "has the power of law."

In the back of the room, activists associated with the carpenter's union, the United Workers, and a red-shirted group called Jews United for Justice watched. "We Are Watching," their shirts read.


Click here for more from Edward Ericson Jr. or email Edward at eericson@citypaper.com

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