Baltimore’s longstanding “strong mayor” form of government came under frontal attack tonight when the City Council voted to take away the mayor’s control of the Board of Estimates and grant the Council power to add spending to the city’s budget.
The 14-1 vote in favor of Council-permitted spending and 12-1-2 vote removing the City Solicitor and Public Works Director from the Board of Estimates indicate that the Council can surmount any veto by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. Twelve Council votes are needed to override a mayoral veto.
The measures will still require approval by city voters in November’s general election before they can go into effect as amendments to the City Charter.
By the narrowest margin, the Council defeated a bill this evening that would change the Council’s composition from 14 single-member districts into seven two-member districts in 2024.
The measure failed by one vote, as seven Council members voted in favor of the bill, six members voted “no” and two members abstained.
Initiated by Council President Young
All three bills were introduced by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, who has smarted under the system by which a five-member Board of Estimates has final say over city spending, including all municipal contracts over $25,000.
The mayor has effective control of the spending board by virtue of hiring the City Solicitor and Public Works Director, who have full voting privileges on the board and make for a three-person mayoral majority.
Under Bill 15-0479 approved tonight, the spending board would be reduced to three elected officials (mayor, city council president and comptroller), while Bill 12-0113 permits the Council to amend the city’s annual budget (known as the Ordinance of Estimates) to increase current appropriations or to add new spending items.
The Rawlings-Blake administration opposes both measures, saying they would undercut the mayor’s priorities, destabilize financial discipline, and result in “divided or fractured decision-making” that would hobble economic growth and threaten the city’s bond rating.
The sole opponent of 15-0113 was Second District Councilman Brandon M. Scott. Seventh District Councilman Nick Mosby opposed 15-0479, while Scott and 14th District Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke “passed” on the bill.