Reduce size of 19-member City Council, residents say

Panel studying issue holds public meeting

April 26, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

At a time when a monstrous budget deficit has forced Baltimore to consider laying off workers and closing libraries, the City Council should trim its own budget by reducing the number of members, residents said last night.

About 40 residents gathered before a commission weighing whether to recommend shrinking the 19-member council, the largest legislative body among cities of similar size across the country, according to statistics from the National League of Cities.

The council's size has remained unchanged since 1967, despite enormous population losses.

"The budget deficit is absolutely gigantic and terrible," said Kay Dellinger of Northeast Baltimore. "We cannot afford a 19-member council. A 19-member council has done nothing to help this city."

Dellinger, like others who spoke at the public hearing conducted by the Commission on City Council Representation, noted that the part-time council members are paid $48,000 a year. Taxpayer funds also pay for council members' staffs. Trimming the council to 10 members, as some suggest, could save a minimum of $430,000.

The commission was formed by Council President Sheila Dixon after the League of Women Voters pushed for a referendum last year to reduce the size of the council to nine single-member districts. Currently, there are three council members for each of the city's six districts and a council president.

The commission will issue a report in September. Supporters of a smaller council also argue that single-member districts would mean greater accountability from elected lawmakers because each would be the sole council member in a district to praise or blame.

Loretta Richardson of the League of Women Voters said a large council is not needed because the city's population has declined so much. The city has shrunk from a high of 950,000 residents in 1950 to 650,000 last year, according to U.S. Census figures.

"Surely, the City Council should set the tone for the entire city by becoming leaner and meaner," Richardson said.

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