Stokes wants to limit mayoral power

October 16, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Does the mayor of Baltimore have too much power? City Councilman Carl Stokes thinks so.

Frustrated that the mayor has the final say on all major contracts and expenditures, Mr. Stokes is introducing a measure to restructure government.

Mr. Stokes, a two-term councilman from East Baltimore's 2nd District, wants to amend the city charter to strip the voting rights of the mayor's two appointees on the Board of Estimates. The five-member panel approves the city budget and most other financial matters.

He drafted the proposal, which would require voter approval in a referendum next year, after two years of objecting to contracts ,, that expanded Education Alternative Inc.'s role in managing city schools. The company took over nine schools in 1992 and now also has a more limited role in three others.

Other controversial issues have brought complaints about the mayor's control over the board from contractors, nonprofit groups, unions and opponents of privatization, Mr. Stokes said.

"It was just a buildup. Some of the issues we don't even hear about until they go by," he said. "We need another system that allows for a more balanced form of government."

However, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and other critics were quick to dismiss his measure as an election-year gambit. They pointed out that Mr. Stokes would benefit if he wins his bid for the council presidency next year.

"That's a politician's relief act, not a bill designed to help the public," Mr. Schmoke said with a shrug. "The Board of Estimates works very well for this city. It helps keep this city financially sound."

The mayor effectively controls the board, which meets weekly to review contracts, because the city solicitor and public works director always vote the administration line on substantive issues. Baltimore's Board of Estimates was created at the turn of the century as part of a reform movement to combat corruption by centralizing the city government.

Mr. Stokes is not alone is his belief that too much power is vested with the mayor. First District Councilmen John Cain and Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. favor abolishing the board and returning the authority to review contracts to the council.

"To enfranchise citizens, you have to enfranchise the City Council and give more power to the comptroller," said 2nd

District Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge. He said he favors Mr. Stokes' measure, which will be introduced tomorrow night.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who plans to challenge Mr. Schmoke's bid for a third term next year, does not support the effort. "I believe in a strong mayor form of government. There has to be one person above and beyond everyone else who is accountable," she said.

A panel that spent almost two years updating the city charter decided to leave the board's current structure and powers intact.

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