All 14 of the district-representing City Council members have asked Mayor Catherine Pugh to resign from her office immediately.
Their two-sentence letter, released Monday morning, was blunt.
“The entire membership of the Baltimore City Council believes that it is not in the best interest of the City of Baltimore, for you to continue to serve as Mayor,” it read. “We urge you to tender your resignation, effective immediately.”
Pugh’s office responded with a blunt statement of its own.
“Mayor Pugh has taken a leave to focus on recovering from pneumonia and regaining her health,” it said. “She fully intends to resume the duties of her office and continuing her work on behalf of the people and the City of Baltimore.”
As with all of the mayor’s recent press releases, Pugh’s statement made no mention of the ongoing “Healthy Holly” scandal.
The council’s message is still the same, said councilman Zeke Cohen. Their letter “is indicating that we would like to move on,” he told WYPR.
The councilman also said that the scandal has pushed the council to consider several structural reforms to the city’s charter.
“We know that this super super strong mayor system has not always served the citizens of Baltimore appropriately,” Cohen said. “So my colleagues and I are thinking about, is there an appropriate way to restructure that institution so that there is more shared governance.”
The Baltimore City Council does not have the authority to terminate a mayor for any reason. Changing this would require amending the city charter, which would then require legislation and a ballot measure for Baltimore voters in 2020.
Cohen says the way Baltimore city charter is written generally holds one person accountable: the mayor. For one, the mayor “more or less” controls three of the five votes on the Board of Estimates. The board, which oversees everything from taxes to zoning regulations, consists of the President of the City Council, the Comptroller, the Mayor, the City Solicitor, and the Director of Public Works. The last two are appointed by the mayor and, across different mayors’ terms, traditionally cast their votes in the same direction.
“We hear from a lot of different people in different arenas that having one person control this incredibly powerful institution isn't serving our citizens well,” Cohen said.
Other council members say Pugh needs to resign simply because the city’s elected leaders must be able to devote their time to other things.
“This is an extraordinary situation that we’re dealing with, one that doesn’t happen, usually,” Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke told WYPR in a phone interview. “We, in Baltimore, just cannot get caught up in the mayor’s investigations and ethics and all the likes while we try to reduce violence, fix schools, and get around this curve.”
“I feel at this point there’s a long journey ahead in terms of explanations and resolutions,” Clarke said. “We don’t want the people of Baltimore to get caught up in this. We need to get back to business.”
Council president and ex officio mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young did not sign the letter.
“I learned about the Council’s plan late Saturday evening, and it quickly became clear to me that the caucus was unanimously set on moving forward,” Young said in an emailed comment to WYPR. “I understand their frustrations. My duties remain clear as ever. As long as Mayor Pugh is out on an extended leave of absence, my job of stabilizing City government and of ensuring the continued deliverance of essential City services continues. I am focused like a laser on the City of Baltimore.”