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Two-term limit for city officials? More clarity on Ballot Question K

P. Kenneth Burns
Baltimore City Hall. A proposed amendment to the city charter -- a November ballot initiative called Question K -- would limit all city elected officials to two consecutive terms in office. But a key provision of the Sinclair Broadcasting-sponsored amendment has been omitted from the summary text on the ballot that voters will read. (WYPR photo)

Today on Midday, we’re going to follow-up on a Midday exclusive story we brought you last week about Question K, a voter referendum issue that will appear on ballots in Baltimore city in the November election.

Question K asks voters to decide whether or not city officials should be limited to two terms in office, beginning in 2024. Sounds simple enough, right? You hold an office for two terms, and you can’t run for that office again unless you wait four years. When we first read the Question on a draft of the city ballot posted recently on the Maryland Board of Elections website, it never dawned on us that a candidate who is term-limited in one office would not be allowed to run for another office.

For example, if someone serves as City Council President, after two terms, one assumes she could run for Mayor.

That is exactly the intention of the organization who collected signatures to get the Question on the ballot. Last week, Tom spoke about the merits of term limits with former Mayors Sheila Dixon and Kurt Schmoke, who served as Mayor for three terms in the late 1980s and 1990s. Mayor Schmoke pointed out that the language of the Question on the ballot disallows a person from running for any office after having served 8 years.

That’s not what term limit proponents said when they wrote the actual language that will become part of the charter if this Question passes. That language specifically says that this provision “shall not preclude an elected official from seeking other elected office” in Baltimore City.

So what are we voting for?

And who is calling for the vote?

That organization is called People for Elected Accountability & Civic Engagement. It’s chaired by Jovani Patterson, a former Republican candidate for Baltimore City Council President, and the effort is largely funded by David Smith, the chair of Sinclair Broadcasting, a media company that owns Fox 45 and other stations around the country.

So, today, let’s talk about three things:

Are term limits a good idea?

It’s legal, but is it proper for a media organization to actively promote changes to Baltimore City law?

What happens when the language of what we’re voting for is different than the statute that will result from that vote?

We’ll take the last question first.

Tom spoke this morning with Jim Shea, the Baltimore City Solicitor, and we begin with their recorded conversation.

Then, two veteran political observers weigh in on Question K.

Larry Gibson of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Carey School of Law, who joins us in Studio A; and Jayne Miller, who retired recently from WBAL Television, who joins us on Zoom.

During the conversation, we are also joined on the phone by Question K proponent Jovani Patterson, chair of People for Elected Accountability & Civic Engagement, which is sponsoring the ballot initiative.

Views on Question K: James L. Shea, Baltiomore City Solicitor; Jayne Miller, former WBAL-TV investigative reporter; and Professor Larry Gibson, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Francis King Carey School of Law. (courtesy photos)

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