Killing Privatization

June 25, 1994

There's no doubt about it. The charter amendment up for final consideration by the Baltimore City Council at its special session Monday night is designed to do one thing: kill the movement toward privatization of city services.

It's a bad bill that the Council never should have approved initially and which Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke rightly vetoed. Now Council President Mary Pat Clarke, and other Council members anxious to curry favor with the city's powerful unions, have called a special meeting in hopes of overriding the Schmoke vetoes of this bill and another labor-union special to allow high-ranking white-collar city workers to unionize. As Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, put it, "This is the time that you prove you think for yourself or you don't."

The charter amendment proposal would set up a special Office of Contract Compliance in the Department of Finance. While the stated goal is to ensure that efforts to privatize city services are well thought out and make economic sense, the true intent is to stop the trend toward contracting-out government operations.

Many of the charter requirements for privatizing a program are designed to discourage the mayor or outside companies from making the effort. It would be a long and expensive process. No wonder Mr. Schmoke, in his veto message, said this plan would create "a new layer of unnecessary and potentially costly bureaucracy" that would "impede the timely and innovative reorganization of city services."

Clearly, the recent flap over privatizing Patterson High School and the on-going controversy surrounding the Tesseract program in some city schools led to the introduction of this charter amendment. The Baltimore Teachers Union is going all out to quash these innovative experiments, and other city unions are anxious to stop Mr. Schmoke from implementing any other efforts to turn city activities over to outside contractors.

This restrictive proposal would head Baltimore in the wrong direction. Privatizing works in many areas to provide more efficient services at a lower cost. For a city that is having trouble delivering basic services, all promising options must be explored. This includes privatization.

We urge the Council not to strip away this useful tool from the mayor. Baltimore needs all the flexibility it can get in its quest to reinvigorate city government.

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