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Politicsby Mark Reutter2:18 pmDec 5, 20140

Inside City Hall: Moving on after the mayor vetoes Council’s cherished bills

Police body cameras? Banned plastic bags? All that was so important to the City Council last month was forgotten last night.

Above: Council President Jack Young presides over the November 17 meeting where the police camera and plastic bag ban bills were passed.

Last night, the City Council had before it the mayor’s veto of two bills that it had long hyped and overwhelmingly passed and – without a peep of protest – moved on to other matters.

Thus ended the Council’s courageous? vainglorious? lame? (fill in your own words here) attempt to legislate body cameras on police and ban plastic bags in grocery stores by letting the mayor’s veto stand uncontested.

Let’s examine the camera matter first. All last month, Council members lined up to jump on the bandwagon of requiring body cameras on police officers in Baltimore.

No member pointed out the obvious – that the Council can’t under the City Charter appropriate the supplemental funds needed to pay for the cameras. Only the mayor can, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake kept telling them that she wouldn’t sign the bill.

The mayor wants a body camera program to her own liking (she appointed a task force that will make recommendations to her sometime in early 2015). Only then would she submit a supplemental appropriations bill to the Council to pay for the cameras.

Obviously, any effective Council bill needed the mayor’s backing. Negotiations between the legislative and executive branches of City Hall were clearly in order.

Never Buck a Mayor!

But under Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, the body petulantly proceeded straight toward the rocks, passing the camera bill on November 17 with only Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector saying “no” and Councilman Edward Reisinger absent.

Whereupon Councilman Robert Curran stood up and informed his colleagues that his desire for body cameras did not supersede his personal credo that a councilman has no business overriding a potential mayoral veto.

So even before the bill was sent to the mayor, it was doomed to failure (which we more than once pointed out). Rawlings-Blake just had to peel off one other Councilperson – and she had at least seven choices – to publicly humiliate the Council over its failure to stand up to her will.

The plastic bag bill is a somewhat different matter. The mayor didn’t have to take a position on the bill’s contents – which big companies like Walmarts and powerful associations like the American Chemistry Council opposed – because the bill was so procedurally flawed.

The legislation started off as a 5 cent tax on plastic bags, but morphed shortly before the start of the Council meeting into an outright ban on bags. The turnabout in legislative intent was sanctioned by the bill’s sponsor, Councilman James B. Kraft, and quickly passed on voice vote.

Lacking Transparency

The mayor seized upon the fact that the amended bill had not gone before a public hearing (which typically consists of a short list of lobbyists) and took the high road that the bill lacked transparency.

Which gets us back to last night. The choice before President Jack Young was either to call for a vote on the two vetoed bills or pretend that the bills and vetoes didn’t exist.

He choose the latter. The Council agenda included an entry, “Communication from the Mayor” with two “exhibits” (not included in the on-line agenda) that reprinted the mayor’s veto letters.

And that was it – no public announcement of the vetoes, no override vote taken, and no councilmanic protests that the public wasn’t getting the democracy it deserved.

The Council has until December 24 to call for a special meeting to act on the veto. This seems unlikely.

At last night’s meeting, the last scheduled gathering until January 12, 2015, Young & Co. hurried on to other pressing matters, such as introducing a measure to prevent human trafficking in city hotels and establishing “Baltimore – Birthplace of the Star-Spangled Banner” as the official slogan of the city they are elected to govern.

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