By Stephen Janis, Special to the AFRO
It was billed as a major policy shift for Baltimore, but could also be the opening salvo in the battle for the mayor’s office in 2020.
July 31, current City Council President Brandon Scott rolled out a series of ambitious legislative initiatives and charter amendments he promised would fundamentally change the way business would be done at City Hall.
“Everyone who loves Baltimore must commit to being uncomfortable. We must take an honest look at everything we do and assess what must change,” Scott said.
Among the changes were ideas Scott has floated in the past, including creating an administrator position that would run day -to- day operations of the city, and reducing the number of seats on the city’s Board of Estimates, the body that approves contracts with the city.
In all, Scott said the policy shifts were aimed at deep structural change for a city that has been plagued by intractable poverty and stubbornly high crime. But also, he hoped would offer an opportunity to re-examine long standing practices of the city that rarely make the spotlight, like parking fines and other fees that often fall disproportionately on the city’s poorest residents.
The proposals run the gamut from public safety, youth initiatives, public engagement, and equity. The latter, an area Scott had addressed through previous legislation sought to subject proposed legislation to a racial “equity” analysis. It was also part of a larger theme for Scott of shifting some of the practices that had only exacerbated the city’s formidable social ills.
“We must embed a framework of equity into how we do business. This means requiring ordinances to have a fiscal and equity impact analysis,” Scott said.
One specific area the proposals touched upon that is often overlooked is the city’s practice of adding penalties to overdue parking fines and towing scofflaws to the city’s infamous impound lot. Scott said he would take a hard look at how the plethora of fines and penalties affect city residents and quality of life.
Scott also said he wants to take a deep dive into the inner workings of the city charter by reviewing the core set of laws that dictate how the city operates. To do so, Scott is proposing a review of the charter every decade by a special committee that would pass recommended changes to the council.
“Baltimore’s government has been unwilling to evolve and remains committed to outdated structure and systems that do not work,” Scott said. “It is time we build a better structure.”
The most substantial change to the charter proposed by Scott is shrinking of the Board of Estimates from five members to three. The current configuration, which includes three elected officials and two members of the mayor’s cabinet makes the body an ineffective check on city spending, Scott said.“It is time to change the structure of the Board of Estimates to increase accountability by ensuring only elected officials are making decisions about how taxpayer dollars are being spent.”
Scott also vowed to pass legislation that would ban so-called gag orders; controversial clauses in police brutality settlements that force victims to remain silent. Recently, the council introduced legislation to stop the city from requiring them, even as the city’s legal department said they had phased them out.
He also proposed asking the state to reduce the age residents are eligible to vote to 16, a move he said would increase the civic engagement of Baltimore’s young people.
Looming over the proposal was the upcoming battle for the top job at city hall. Both Scott and current Mayor Jack Young are rumored to be exploring a run, but neither has formally announced.
Asked if he was setting up a showdown by trying to draw a contrast to his possible opponent, Scott was non-committal.
“This is solely about my time as Council president, the discussion about running for mayor is for another day,” Scott said.