Smaller is better

City Council: Incumbents should vote to downsize Baltimore's bloated legislative body.

February 05, 2002

NEVER IN the past 30 years has Baltimore's City Council been less effective than it is today. It's dominated by timeservers who often don't attend hearings. Even returning constituents' telephone calls seems to be asking too much.

The 18 council members have taken care of themselves, though. They receive $48,000 a year for their part-time job - far more than an average Baltimorean gets for toiling full-time. (The council also includes a president who earns $80,000 a year.)

Two bills would trim the council's size. City Council President Sheila Dixon proposes dividing the city into seven districts (instead of the current six) that would each have two council representatives.

Councilman Robert W. Curran would carve the city into four districts, each sending four representatives to the council.

A study commission showed last year that there are many other ways to reconfigure the council, including a setup with nine single-member districts. After weighing the various alternatives, the commission suggested the reorganization model that Ms. Dixon has now introduced.

It's time for the council to debate this issue and get rid of the status quo. The cash-strapped city should be governed by a smaller council.

Unfortunately, most City Council members want nothing to jeopardize their cushy jobs.

Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch went so far as to introduce a countermeasure. She suggests that the Board of Estimates, which oversees all city expenditures, be trimmed from five to three members.

Her proposal is a brazen attempt to divert attention from downsizing the council.

The future makeup of the council should be its members' top agenda item this spring.

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