6 should be winning number in debate on council's size

This Just In...

January 16, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

BALTIMOREANS have a question to ponder, and the answer is no: Do we really need 18 men and women, making $48,000 a year, plus a president, on the City Council? Baltimore County somehow manages to get by with only seven council members. Montgomery County avoids total anarchy with nine. Same with Prince George's.

Here in the shrinking Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin, we cling to 19 as if there's something sacred about that number.

As we well know, some numbers are sacred - three Wise Men, Twelve Apostles, nine candles on the Hanukkah menorah. I like 11 on a football team, and 5-on-5 for ice hockey and hoops. It takes two to tango.

But we don't need 18 men and women, plus a president, on the Baltimore City Council.

Nothing personal, council members. We appreciate your public service - taking our phone calls and complaints, speaking to countless community and church groups, getting potholes patched and street lamps repaired. But there are too many of you. Twelve of you should find some other way to serve the citizens of this fair city, or just give yourselves up for medical experiments.

Others are taking a duller set of scissors into this surgery.

A couple of council members have proposed laughably modest trims. Bobby Curran proposes a 16-member council with a president. Sheila Dixon, the president, proposes keeping herself and 14 council members.

These are hardly radical or heroic proposals, but what do you expect? This is like asking Tony Siragusa to cut back on game-day cannolis. Instead of eating a dozen, he settles - badda bing! - for 10. You know what I'm saying?

A couple of years ago, the League of Women Voters proposed a City Council with 10 members.

But why stop there?

Six is what I have in mind.

I struggled in Mr. George Oliverio's seventh-grade math class, but I learned to do numbers and understand ratios. I don't even need a calculator to point out the ridiculousness of keeping 18 City Council members in a city of (according to the 2000 census) 651,154, with the property taxes going up and the size of the city work force going down.

Eighteen council members for 651,154 citizens is a ratio of 1-to-36,000.

Look at the People's Republic of Montgomery County. With a population of 873,341, we're talking one council member for every 97,000 citizens.

In Prince George's (population 801,515) you're looking at one to about 90,000.

In Baltimore County (population 754,292), it's one council member to every 107,000.

If you applied the Baltimore County ratio to the city, then we'd need only six council members.

That's how I get that number.

Would a City Council of six be less responsive, more overwhelmed by the demands of constituents than a council of 18?

It shouldn't be - not with the huge drop in the city's population, and not if the council keeps an adequate staff to handle the phone calls and the e-mail.

Cutting the City Council isn't about saving money, but it's a factor. If we cut 12 who make $48,000 each a year - and that's $3,000 more than their counterparts in Baltimore County make - then we'd net $576,000.

That's a nice chunk of change the city could put toward more drug treatment or more police officers.

So, I make a motion that we open up the parking around City Hall by reducing the size of the Baltimore City Council to six plus the president. Now, somebody pass me a cannoli.

Settling into the nest

Please don't choke on your pretzel, but I have just become an Elvis Grbac fan. I don't know what's come over me. It's as if someone slipped a mind-altering substance into my Swiss Miss. I feel like Shallow Hal, the guy in that Gwyneth Paltrow movie who gets hypnotized and suddenly sees beauty where everyone else sees beast. I went from resenting Elvis to seeing Elvis as a hero perfectly suited for Baltimore.

The obvious explanation for my shift is this: The Ravens are winning.

But the mere fact that the Ravens are still alive in the postseason does not explain my sudden thing for Elvis. You don't expect me to admit to anything so superficial, do you?

The cause of my Elvis Epiphany lies deeper.

See, I was one of those Trent Dilfer fans. I liked the guy. He was not a great quarterback, but he was a leader and, for all his warts, he ended up the winning QB in the Super Bowl last year. He was a Raven - more guts than glitz.

What did the Ravens do?

They dumped the guy, and I thought that was low.

Therefore, I could not like his replacement, even if his name was Elvis and even if he was a drop-dead gorgeous passer.

So I was kind of grumpy all season. And I got grumpier as Elvis and the Ravens struggled.

But something happened. As the season wore on, I heard more and more Baltimore fans dumping on the Ravens quarterback. I started to feel sorry for this Elvis. He reminded me of Trent - winning despite himself and all those nagging questions about his abilities.

That's the way it was around here last year. That's the way it is this year. This team doesn't win with a quarterback standing like a classic Greek hero in a perfectly protected pocket and launching exquisite spirals to wide receivers who run precise, computer-designed patterns. It wins by beating the Bee Gees out of the other team in a way that now and then opens up an opportunity for a quarterback to complete a significant pass. It wins by pounding out running yards, by taking advantage of breaks, by somehow scoring more points than the other team. And I think that's a better fit for Baltimore than some glitzy West Coast offense.

Elvis and the coach who brought him to town, Brian Billick, finally figured that out.

And I've finally become an Elvis Grbac fan because Elvis Grbac finally became Trent Dilfer. He finally became a Raven.

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