Passing the buck

City Council: Study panel proposes options ranging from no changes to radical downsizing.

April 06, 2001

SHOULDN'T Baltimore slash the size of its 19-member City Council after losing a third of its population since the 1950s?

Don't look to a commission for a solution.

After studying the matter for six months, the panel has come up with three answers: "Yes," "no" and "perhaps."

The status-quo option would retain the system of six three-member districts and a president who is elected citywide.

The moderate-change alternative would create a 15-member council, where each of the seven districts would elect two members and an at-large president.

The third option is the most radical: Carve the city into nine single-member districts, with an at-large president.

Carl Stokes, a former councilman who chaired the panel, acknowledges that current City Hall officeholders see no need for downsizing. Some council members complain of overwork and want the legislative body enlarged.

That's outrageous balderdash.

The cash-strapped city should be governed by a smaller council. But incumbents, who have now raised their own salaries to $48,000 for part-time work, won't relinquish their cushy jobs.

They've turned their posts into full-time constituent-service centers -- doing the work that can and should be handled by city agencies.

A larger council doesn't necessarily lead to better lawmaking.

Far more populous Baltimore County has operated well with a seven-member council. But as the county has grown and gotten more urbanized, it has become plain that a larger council is now justified.

Yet it is also clear that the city no longer needs or can afford its bloated council, which has meager powers in Baltimore's strong-mayor form of government.

Taxpayers should insist on a smaller, more effective City Council. We urge Baltimore residents to make that point -- strongly -- at a public forum on the commission report, 6 p.m. on April 25 at the Poly-Western auditorium, Cold Spring Lane and Falls Road.

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