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Mobtown Beat

Those Mysterious Questions on the Bottom of the Ballot? Here’s the Deal

Photo: Frank Klein, License: N/A

Frank Klein

City Councilmember James Kraft

Legalese often complicates the presentation of simple issues. But the two charter amendments at the bottom of the ballot in Baltimore City’s Nov. 8 general election seem to be suffering the opposite malady: The language oversimplifies the issues at hand.

Question A is a resolution sponsored by City Councilmember James Kraft (D-1st District) and would establish “1 or more continuing, nonlapsing funds” to divert money toward “creating modern state-of-the-art schools.” Similar measures were passed in 2006 for affordable housing and last year for environmental purposes.

But due to an 11th-hour amendment passed in the City Council, the bill, even if passed, won’t quite achieve what its language aspires to, according to Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District), chair of the Education Committee.

“At the heart of it, it doesn’t do what we set out to do, which is have the ability to dedicate incoming revenues by ordinance to improving school and recreation facilities,” Clarke says. “That’s out of the bill. And so what remains is that if there is some kind of fund set up, [any unspent money] will not disappear back into general funds” at the end of the fiscal year.

Currently, the City Council’s charter does not allow for the council to allocate funds to any specific purpose unless an amendment is passed by the voters, as in the case of affordable housing.

“All this is is the enabling legislation,” Kraft says. “All this does is place a provision in the city charter that says that the City Council has the power to do this.”

Following the passing of the amendment, the council would then have to introduce and approve legislation to decide how to spend the funds; Kraft plans to begin work on this process next year.

The bill is a response to the Transform Baltimore campaign, a coalition of organizations such as the ACLU of Maryland, the League of Women Voters, and the Baltimore Education Coalition that seeks to lobby elected officials to raise the $2.8 billion they say is needed to modernize Baltimore City schools in the next eight years.

“We were inspired by the Transform effort underway to raise the $2.8 billion needed in Baltimore to bring our schools up to par,” Clarke says. “Schools that are nonfunctional, repair and refurbish schools that are in need of basic repairs, such as new windows, boilers that work, doors that open and shut—we’re talking basics.”

Also on the ballot is a measure that would lower the age requirement to run for City Council from 21 to 18 (though the specific ages are not noted in the ballot language), with a measure tacked on “clarifying the requirement that members be registered voters.”

The added clause stumped both Nicolas D’Adamo Jr. (D-2nd District), chair of the Policy and Planning Committee, and Robert Curran (D-3rd District), co-sponsor of the bill with Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D). It turns out that the current language does not stipulate that members of the City Council be registered voters specifically within Baltimore City, and this bill would remedy that.

An amendment to lower the eligibility age appeared on the ballot in 2004, but was defeated 81,552 votes to 70,186. All other questions that year won by a margin of at least 40 percent, and no question has been defeated in the city since. Some of D’Adamo’s and Curran’s reasons for lowering the age ring similar to those who support lowering the drinking age to 18: that 18-year-olds can vote and defend our country, and so should be able to serve it in office. They also maintain that the enticement of running for office may get younger citizens involved in the political process, which would be a positive for everyone involved.

“I think you’re seeing a lot of younger people running for office these days,” D’Adamo, who is retiring from City Council at the end of the current term, says. “I don’t think that if a person wants to run for public office and has the qualifications and people want to vote for him that age should matter.”

Curran refers to a “vacuum of leadership” in Baltimore, and stresses the idea that the current generation of politicians needs to focus on preparing its successors; he plans to push voting for the amendment on his own ballot.

“I just think this would be a vehicle to get the next generation involved in local politics,” Curran says. “If they have their issues that they want to expand on and their council people don’t listen, then, ‘Hey, I’ll run around you.’ I think the more people that get involved in the electoral process the better. We need to groom leaders to follow us is basically what this is all about. We need to get them involved and this is a good way to get them involved.”

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