Council Seeks Power to Oust Mayor, Override Vetoes More Easily | WYPR

Council Seeks Power to Oust Mayor, Override Vetoes More Easily

Apr 29, 2019

Baltimore City Hall.
Credit Patrick Semansky/AP

A package of charter amendments being introduced at Monday’s Baltimore City Council meeting would give its members the ability to oust a mayor and override a mayoral veto with fewer votes than are now required.

The three proposed amendments arrive amid Mayor Catherine Pugh’s ongoing “Healthy Holly” scandal, in which Pugh sold a series of self-published children’s books to the University of Maryland Medical system while she sat on its board and also took money for the books from organizations that were seeking city contracts.

The package is being introduced by Council members Kristerfer Burnett, Ryan Dorsey, Bill Henry and Leon Pinkett, all Democrats. Last week, Dorsey introduced three bills that provide formal protections for city whistle blowers, bolster financial disclosure forms and move the city ethics board from an office of Baltimore city to the independent inspector general’s office.

One amendment would allow the council to remove a mayor with the approval of three-fourths of its members in cases of misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty, incompetence, or if a mayor engaged in a felony or misdemeanor.

The entire council asked Pugh to resign earlier this month — but unless she is convicted of a crime, the choice to step down is entirely her own.

Another would reduce the number of members needed to overturn a mayor’s veto from three-fourths of the council to two-thirds. Henry introduced a similar amendment several years ago that passed out of committee, but it died on the council floor. 

“I could find no example of a supermajority required to overturn a veto in similar sized cities,” Henry said during a Monday city council luncheon.

As it stands now, the council can only cut funds from the city budget. The third amendment would allow the council to add funds to the budget, providing that it approves cuts elsewhere to pay for its additions. The council passed a similar amendment three years ago, but then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vetoed it.

Reintroducing this amendment is “taking another swing at trying to better balance the power dynamic” throughout Baltimore government, Henry said.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who currently represents the 14th district and has been active in Baltimore politics since the 1960s, praised the council’s current term on Monday for passing more progressive legislation than “any of the other terms I’ve served in this city council.”

Clarke supports most aspects of the proposed amendments, but said she was somewhat “worried” about the mayoral removal charter amendment.   

“You’ve gotta have somebody who is the boss of Baltimore, and that’s the mayor,” Clarke said. “What that means is that one person can be held accountable for how we spend the taxpayers’ money and the positions we take… when you start chipping away at that control, you’ve gotta make sure that you’re not spreading accountability too thin to be accountable.”

If the amendments make it through several rounds in council, they’ll be sent to the mayor who can sign or veto them. If signed, they’ll go before city voters in the November 2020 election.