The Annapolis city council is expected to vote tonight on a measure that could eventually put the oversight of multimillion-dollar construction projects in the hands of an independent revenue authority.
The council is to decide whether to amend the city's charter to allow the creation of such an authority when it meets at 7 p.m.
Revenue authorities are small corporate boards that sell bonds and collect fees to finance projects, from stadiums to parking garages. An authority is governed by board members who are appointed by local government officials.
Tonight's vote would not establish a revenue authority, but would give the council the power to do so by amending the charter, which outlaws such panels.
If the amendment passes, the council could then debate what projects a revenue authority could oversee and the extent of its powers.
Supporters say revenue authorities operate with the speed and efficiency of private business, whereas development decisions are slowed in city government because of political disputes and bureaucratic red tape.
But critics contend such boards serve as backdoor routes for projects that have not secured local government approval. Some residents say the push for a revenue authority is coming from supporters of a downtown conference center proposal, which has run into trouble during recent city council debates.
Alderman Louise Hammond, a Ward 1 Democrat, said the specific purpose of the revenue authority is a "big unknown" and questions why its supporters would want to place money-making decisions in the hands of an unelected body.
"A lot of residents have come forward and said the council is shirking its responsibility if it does this," Ms. Hammond said. "Their biggest fear is that the revenue authority will take away public input."
Alderman Shep Tullier, a Ward 4 Democrat, said municipalities across Maryland are trying to install authorities because city bureaucracies can be too slow in delivering money.
"It's enabling legislation, it doesn't mean there's any commitment to any specific project," Mr. Tullier said. "I know there will be a lot of scrutiny, and I think there should be, in the public process to create a revenue authority."
Annapolis would be the first city in Maryland to create a revenue authority on its own, instead of getting a mandate from the General Assembly.
The aldermen can pass the measure by a simple majority of the nine-member council. But some residents have vowed to gather petitions and put the proposed charter amendment to a referendum.
Finance Committee Chairman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat, said that if the city adopts the charter amendment, it is required by law to wait 45 days before debating the specifics of its own revenue authority. But the city could wait even longer because several aldermen want an independent commission to review various options.