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Inside City Hall: Honey, I shrunk the Council!

The longest-serving member of the City Council proposes a smaller body to the irritation of her fellow incumbents

Above: Rikki Spector says the city is losing population, so it should lose some Council people, too.

A city council member who doesn’t even live in the district she represents is proposing to reduce the number of districts, essentially going back to how councilmanic districts were set up more than a decade ago.

Last night, some colleagues told Rochelle “Rikki” Spector (5th District) they don’t think much of the idea.

“Throughout the whole state, we are all single-member districts,” said 6th District Councilwoman Sharon Green Middleton.

“There are no statistics that [single-member districts] are not working. I’m totally against it,” added Middleton, who would likely have to share a district with Spector under the proposed plan.

Spector, who represents far Northwest Baltimore but lives in Federal Hill, has introduced a bill to change the council from 14 single-member districts to four three-member districts.

That would have the effect of reducing the number of members to 12 from today’s 14. (It should be noted that the council previously had multi-member districts – six three-member districts – until the Question P charter amendment was approved by voters in 2002).

Spector told The Brew the change is needed because single-member districts leave constituents unrepresented if a member resigns or becomes ill.

When a member resigns (as in the case of William H. Cole IV who left downtown’s 11th District to head the Baltimore Development Corporation), constituents can be without representation for a month or more before the council selects a replacement.

The same is true when a member becomes ill (Councilman Ed Reisinger, representing Southwest’s 10th District, had shingles for several months last year.)

If all districts were multi-member, Spector points out, citizens would never be without representation.

Smaller Council for Smaller City?

When she was first elected in 1977, Spector said the city had a population of over 800,000,  and a council with 18 representatives and a council president made sense.

With today’s population closer to 600,000, “I think four three-member council districts would be better and also could save money.”

Spector said she has mulled over possible district reconfigurations.

“I thought about five two-member districts and even nine two-member districts structured  around Baltimore City police districts. But that would bring us up to 18 council members, and would not be cost-effective.”

Along with her own thoughts about demographics, Spector may also be confronting another reality on the council – her own diminished role in it.

After siding with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and casting votes against two bills cherished by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (on police body cameras and  a plastic bag ban) – Spector was punished.

Young stripped her last month of all but one of her committee assignments.

Weakening Democracy?

Councilman Bill Henry (4th), who is co-sponsoring Spector’s bill, acknowledged yesterday that the measure probably isn’t going to get far.

“Whether we hear the charter amendment fully or not,” he said, the council needs to have “a conversation” about question P. “Is it working out as well as it was supposed to?”

Middleton shot back that she didn’t think such a “conversation” was necessary.

Nick Mosby, in his first term as 7th District councilman, was likewise in opposition. “This weakens democracy and would strengthen incumbents’ power,” he opined.

Spector, the Council’s self-described “dean,” is currently serving out her seventh consecutive term. She was originally appointed 38 years ago to succeed her late husband, Councilman Allen B. Spector, who was named to a District Court judgeship.

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