Will Voters Amend Baltimore’s City Charter?

Written by on October 31, 2012 in Featured, Neighborhood News - No comments

On Nov. 6, in addition to choosing either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney to lead for the next four years, voters will decide to adopt or reject four amendments to the Baltimore City Charter.

Question J: Stormwater Utility

For the purpose of establishing a financially self-sustaining stormwater utility; authorizing supplemental legislation to implement the provisions governing water, sanitary wastewater, and stormwater utilities; correcting, clarifying, and conforming related language; and providing for a special effective date.

The city already has a water utility and a sanitary wastewater utility. This charter amendment would add a third utility for stormwater. The three utilities would be separate, but per the Charter may, if necessary, borrow funds from each other other as long as it’s in accordance with city laws.

The three utilities may also borrow employees from each other.

At his annual constituents’ breakfast in June, First District Councilman Jim Kraft said that this “very technical” amendment gives the City Council the authority to create a new tax, or “stormwater fee.”

Kraft mentioned a plastic bag fee as a possibility—residents would pay for the plastic shopping bags they used. If they brought their own shopping bags, they wouldn’t pay the fee.

Also at the breakfast, Kraft noted that the state’s General Assembly had mandated that every major county and Baltimore City had to establish a fund to deal with stormwater and runoff issues.

He also said that the city was in danger of being sued by the Environmental Protection Agency, possibly resulting in higher water bills.


Question K: Municipal Elections

For the purpose of confirming State Legislation, by providing for the election of the Mayor, the Comptroller, and the President and Members of the City Council in 2016 and in every succeeding fourth year; adjusting the terms of office for those elected in 2011.

If enacted, this amendment would move city elections—set for 2015 under the current Charter—to 2016, followed by 2020, 2024, etc. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the City Council, who were elected in 2011 and currently in office, would serve out a five-year term until 2016; all subsequent terms would be four years.

Some proponents of this amendment have said that moving the city elections away from an off year would increase voter turnout. Only 13 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the 2011 city elections.

Some opponents of the amendment have said that it would—in addition to giving the city’s current elected officials an extra year to their terms—allow city officials to run for state positions without risking their city seats, and vice versa. Since the next state elections are in 2014, Councilman X could run for a seat on the Maryland General Assembly in 2014, lose, and keep his or her guaranteed seat on the City Council until 2016.


Question L: Minority Party Representation on Boards and Commissions

For the purpose of allowing voters registered as unaffiliated or as third party members to sit on City boards and commissions as minority party representatives; defining a certain term; generally relating to minority party representatives on City boards and commissions.

Under the current Charter, city boards and commissions with five or fewer members must have at least one member who is a registered member of Baltimore’s minority party. Boards and commissions with more than five members must include at least two minority party members.

In other words, the city’s boards and commissions, largely comprised of registered Democrats today, must include one or two Republicans, depending on the size of the board.

Under the proposed Charter amendment, those one or two members could be anybody not registered with the Democratic Party. They would not have to necessarily be Republicans.


Question M: Quadrennial Agency Audits

For the purpose of requiring certain City agencies to have their operations audited at least once during every 4-year term of the Mayor and city Council; defining certain terms; specifying who may conduct the audits; and requiring certain reports.

Per this amendment, city departments—including finance, law, public works, fire, police, housing and community development, recreation and parks, transportation, general services, planning, human resources, the mayor’s office of information technology, and the Baltimore Development Corporation—would be audited every four years by either the city auditor or an independent certified public accountant or firm.

These audits would have a financial focus, reviewing an agency’s monetary transactions, and a performance focus, which would “determine whether the agency is operating economically and efficiently, and whether corrective actions for improving its performance are appropriate.”

The agencies would include the anticipated cost of their quadrennial audit in their budget estimates for that year.

by Erik Zygmont

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