City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young is vying for transparency with his newest legislation proposals to tighten Baltimore’s lobbying rules and televise three city and state board proceedings.

Both bills call for more visibility and clarity of decisions to insure public and city council officials are informed.

The “Transparency and Accountability Bill,” which Young proposed last September, would require all meetings of the following boards to be broadcasted on TV25: Board of Liquor License Commissioners, Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals and Board of Estimates.

He calls the decision-making bodies “three of the city’s most influential.” The Liquor board regulates the retail sale of alcoholic beverages, the Zoning board actuates all zoning appeals and the Board of Estimates manages the city’s operating and capital budgets.

Young held a hearing to discuss feasibility of the bill on Nov. 1. The majority of attendees voiced their support, citing that broadcasts would encourage confidence in city government and stimulate interest. Only the city’s finance department opposed the bill, saying it will cost the city an estimated $130,000 in equipment, staff and execution.

The council president contended that subscriber fees would cover $75,000 of the cost and his office could fund the remainder, adding “Forty-five thousand dollars seems like a small amount to become transparent…and hold city government responsible for all the people that pay our salaries.”

“Most citizens are kept in the dark about decisions made by these powerful boards – which rule on everything from zoning changes to the awarding of multi-million dollar construction contracts – because they are not currently televised, and the meetings often take place during the day when people are at work,” said Young.

A similar hearing for his lobbying bill is scheduled for early January 2011, according to Young’s spokesman Lester Davis.

The ordinance calls for stricter lobby registration guidelines and financial disclosures. It also prohibits lobbyists from falsely implying control over councilmember votes or offering misleading data on public positions.

Young said, “This landmark piece of legislation will help to shine a brighter light on the process of lobbying members of the city’s legislative and executive branches of government.”

If approved, the bill would increase the lobby registration fee from $20 to $100 and require all individuals receiving lobbying compensation to register. Currently, individuals earning under $2,500 are not obligated to sign up. Lobbyists would also be forced to disclose, in more detail, the total amount of money spent promoting or campaigning against bills.

The ordinance is sponsored by at least six other council representatives including Carl Stokes, Warren Branch, Agnes Welch, Bill Henry, Mary Pat Clarke and Helen L. Holton.

Young says the broadcasts and lobbying laws are vital for citizens. “We owe it to our taxpaying citizens to be honest and transparent throughout the entire legislative process.”

 

Shernay Williams

Special to the AFRO