Too many council members Can't afford it: City Council must include itself in plans to streamline government.

May 23, 1996

IT WILL TAKE MORE courage than any previous Baltimore City Council has exhibited to do the right thing and voluntarily reduce the size of that panel. No current council members can sufficiently justify having a 19-member legislative body represent a city that has dropped below 700,000 in population. But they will try. They will continue the lie that public service within their communities requires three representatives for each of the city's six council districts. It does not.

The "councilmanic services" performed by these paid politicians usually consist of making the telephone call that John Q. Citizen could make himself, if directed to the right agency and given its number. Yes, there are times when intervention by a council member may be needed to make a situation right, but that doesn't happen often enough to justify having three council members for each district. It's another luxury Baltimore can't afford.

The role of the council is legislative. It writes the city's laws, it doesn't carry them out. Those duties belong to the executive branch, the mayor. Every time a council member provides "services," he does it through the mayor's office or through a department or agency that reports to the mayor. Since Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is insisting on continuing his satellite offices in each council district, no one should need to call a council member to get his potholes filled or garbage picked up.

A smaller council could concentrate on its true mission to a greater degree. The political distractions that have some council members within the same district plotting against each other would be significantly reduced. Voters would be able to discern more clearly what their representatives are doing. The council's accomplishments could be measured in terms of legislation passed, not fire hydrants painted. Outmoded laws affecting property zoning and building construction could finally be tackled.

Second District Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge has introduced a bill that would reduce the council to one member from each of the six districts plus a president. It is not surprising that none of the council's newest members is among the four co-sponsors. The freshmen want their time to serve. Some can have that. But it should be as part of a smaller, less expensive, more efficient council that would do a better job upholding the interests of Baltimoreans. This city doesn't need 19 council members.

Pub Date: 5/23/96

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