Taxpayers, it turned out.
Just one person showed up last night to testify before the mayor and Board of Estimates at “Taxpayers’ Night,” a yearly ritual that has gone from insignificance to irrelevance during the administration of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Stephanie Murdock, a staffer for Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke who is also an avid skateboarder, urged the board to support the construction of more skate parks in the city.
The mayor joked to Murdock about “showing me a move in your heels,” and that was it – the hearing was over.
Taxpayers’ Night is mandated by the city charter as a forum for taxpayers to vent their concerns about the upcoming city budget. When Rawlings-Blake was a novice mayor four years ago, she devoted a 750-word speech at the hearing to defend her budget.
This year, with no rec centers or fire companies on the cutting block, no one seemed to care. An audience of about 20 was filled with city employees, many of whom live in the counties, so aren’t city taxpayers.
Saying she is a city taxpayer, Murdock lamented that more people didn’t show up. “Unfortunately, people didn’t come or chose not to come. Not to participate in participatory government is a problem, I think,” she said.
Another factor may have been that many activists have written off the forum as an exercise in futility. Under ground rules enforced by Rawlings-Blake and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, the panel “listens to residents and gathers feedback,” but does not respond to those testifying.
This rule of “non-engagement” so infuriated citizen activist Kim Trueheart last year that she avoided this year’s hearing.
“The fact that elected politicians have made it a practice that they will just sit there and intentionally will not engage with the citizens, to me that’s un-American,” Trueheart said today. Rather than “wasting” her time at the hearing, she attended the school board meeting last night.
Some other activists were at an East Baltimore church last night, where a crowd of 200 heard pastors denounce Rawlings-Blake for reneging on a promise to help fund a transitional employment program for the Oliver neighborhood.
Based on Facebook and Twitter chatter, other folks likely to attend Taxpayers’ Night were either at work or unaware of the hearing, which got little advance notice from the city.
Scheduled to last two hours, from 6 to 8 p.m., the meeting was over minutes after it began.