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Major Changes Introduced to Baltimore City Charter

Dominique Maria Bonessi

Five bills were introduced at Monday night’s Baltimore City Council meeting that would bring major changes to the city’s charter. WYPR’s Dominique Maria Bonessi spoke with Morning Edition Host Nathan Sterner about the changes.

NATHAN: First let’s note that it was Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration that has put forward these amendments, correct?

DOMINIQUE: That’s correct, since January Pugh had a team to look over the charter and make significant changes to wording, her role as mayor, and other inner-government workings. The recommendations they came up with are now up for debate within city council. The mayor would like a review of the charter to happen every 10 years. These wide-sweeping recommendations haven’t been made in decades and according to senior city council members, are unprecedented.

NATHAN: What are the first things that stand out about the revised charter and the report the team came up with?

DOMINIQUE: The report was about 98 pages with several lines with verbage struck out and the elimination of gender-specific pronouns. So instead of the mayor being referred to as a "he" it has been changed to "the mayor." There are bits of paragraphs in bold that indicate new wording. For example, the mayor has the power to be a “conservator of peace.” Previously, this meant to allocate money to certain offices in an emergency, but now bold text has been added to say, “the powers of the conservator include any action necessary and contrary to law to keep the peace during a riot, disturbance, or disorderly assembly.”

New wording was also seen for city council and the criteria for city district lines in which redistricting could be based on population rather than the existing lines.

NATHAN: Another charter amendment would establish the office of the Inspector General, but didn’t District Two City Councilman Ryan Dorsey already put forward a similar amendment to make the OIG independent?

DOMINIQUE: That is correct, we now have two different amendments on the table to establish the office and the duties of the Inspector General. Dorsey has already introduced his version of this charter amendment, but the council has not had a final vote on it. Here is what he had to say about the two bills:

DORSEY: “Yeah there are going to be points we agree on. There are going to be points that we agree we should do something else different later. I’m confident we can come to negotiation on a bill that works for all of us.”

DOMINIQUE: So the major differences between the two bills is Dorsey’s has a nine member team while the mayor’s plan has a three member team to help oversee the office. Dorsey’s plan would give the OIG 14 employees to work under the inspector general, while the mayor’s plan would not provide any additional funding to hire employees. The mayor’s plan would also create a deputy auditor to report any and all findings to the inspector general.

NATHAN: Another amendment would make significant changes to the Board of Estimates. What do those look like?

DOMINIQUE: The new amendments would allow a new way for contracts to be awarded by the city. Also, the city council would have the power to change the time frame in which contracts go before the Board of Estimates.

YOUNG: “See right now we normally take the recommendations of the departments and we want to be able to make sure that we are doing the best thing to represent the citizens of Baltimore.”

DOMINIQUE: Finally, the amendment changes the way in which the public is notified of the board of estimates’s ordinances. It used to say, “a copy of ordinances must be published in two daily newspapers in Baltimore city,” and now it has been changed to, “in a manner that ensures adequate notice to the public.” That didn’t sit right with District 14 Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke who thought that new wording was too broad.

CLARKE: I’m worried we need to change that because a lot of people depend on notices in the newspaper, by lawn signs, by flyers; in other words, they’re not tied to the internet and do not get their regular information there.”

NATHAN: Where do these charter amendments go from here?

DOMINIQUE: In the next few weeks the mayor’s team will be meeting with city council members to discuss and debate the amendments. And once city council votes on them, and the mayor signs off, residents can vote on these amendments in the general election in November.

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