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Councilmania

On the agenda for Jan. 31

Several proposed City Council rule changes topped the agenda at last week’s meeting (Councilmania, Jan. 24). The first, assembled by Councilmember William Cole IV (D-11th District) and Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D), came in response to the kerfuffle over the recent appointment of William “Pete” Welch to the 9th District seat, as a replacement for his retiring mother. Welch was voted into office by councilmembers despite controversy over his criminal record. “We heard throughout the process of [filling] the recent vacancy that we need to put this process back in the hands of the residents of the district where the vacancy has occurred,” Cole said. In the event of a vacancy under Cole’s proposed rule change, the Council president would appoint a nominating committee of at least 13 members, including at least 11 residents of the district in question. These residents would be drawn from neighborhood associations and local businesses; two committee members would be councilmembers from adjacent districts.

Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) proposed a related rule change at the Jan. 24 meeting, and it was revisited at this meeting. It calls for a public hearing before the Council considers any changes to the vacancy rules (i.e., the proposal above). This proposal was unanimously approved.

Bill 11-0642 Mayor’s Redistricting Plan

Would redraw the boundaries of the City Council districts, as mandated by the city charter.

The Read: Every 10 years, to coincide with the census, the City Council must redistrict. The goal is to ensure that the population is evenly divided among districts and that those districts reflect the racial demographics of the city. Because 2010 federal census data has not yet been released, the mayor’s office used estimates from market research company Nielson Claritas to inform its decision. (Once the official data becomes available, the plan will be amended if necessary.) Though Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she made an effort to unite neighborhoods that have been divided since the last redistricting in 2003, which happened as a result of a ballot initiative, critics have charged that portions of the map were redrawn for political rather than demographic reasons.

Bills 11-0643, 11-0644, 11-0645, 11-0646, 11-0647, 11-0648, 11-0649

The Read: These bills are all identical amendments to urban renewal plans—for Coldstream Homestead Montebello, Druid Heights, Johnston Square, Oliver, Park Heights, Poppleton, and Reservoir Hill, respectively. The bills are simply extensions, allowing each urban renewal plan to continue until 2014.

Resolution 11-0247R Informational Hearing - Real Property Account - Disposition of City Owned Property

Would ask the comptroller, the director of finance, and the city solicitor to report to the Council on the status of the so-called “mayor and city council real property account,” a repository for the proceeds of city-owned properties.

The Read: According to the city charter, the comptroller must deposit all proceeds from the sale of city-owned property into one particular account. Money in that account is to be used for limited purposes, including the purchase of land and construction work, and every year the comptroller is to report to the City Council on where those funds have gone. But, according to Councilmember Robert Curran (D-3rd District), no one has done so in years. “I’ve been here 15 years,” Curran said. “No comptroller in my memory has ever reported annually to Council the proceeds of that fund.” In reading the charter, Curran noticed another captivating line: “Funds in this account can be used for other purposes only if specifically authorized by ordinance.” The bill would ask the city solicitor to clarify whether the Council might be able to channel some of this money to specific projects if it did so by ordinance. “Every councilmember I’ve known always wants the ability to designate funds,” Curran said. “They always say we can’t do it.”

Resolution 11-0248R Request for State Legislation - Elections to Fill Vacant City Council Seats

Would ask the state legislature to change the rules governing the City Council to allow for special elections.

The Read: This resolution represents an attempt to create more options for the way vacant Council seats are filled. Maryland law does not currently allow the city to fill City Council vacancies through special elections. This resolution, introduced by Bill Henry (D-4th District), would ask the state legislature to reconsider this law, so the Council might open a discussion about whether a special election might be a better route to filling a vacancy than the citizen committee proposed by Cole and Young. At the meeting, several councilmembers expressed doubts about the wisdom of the resolution, fearing it might open the door for the state to make less desirable changes to the Council election process. “The fear is real,” Curran said. “They could put us on the state cycle, the federal cycle, they could leave us alone.”

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 28 at 5 p.m.

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