City delegate to press for charter amendment to reduce council's size

McIntosh plans to work with community groups

March 21, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh said yesterday that she and other lawmakers would work with activists and community groups to ensure that a charter amendment to shrink the size of the City Council would be on Baltimore's ballot in November.

While state lawmakers could force the issue in Annapolis with a bill to amend the Maryland Constitution, McIntosh said that she and her colleagues are opting for an easier tack this year.

"There are a number of organizations working on a referendum," said McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who is majority leader of the House of Delegates. "I have been consistent on this: Nineteen council members is too many."

McIntosh and other delegates said they would ensure that November's ballot included a question about shrinking the size of the council after city officials failed to agree on the timing of Baltimore's municipal elections. For now, the primary for the next city election is 14 months before the general election in November 2004.

Council President Sheila Dixon questioned the legislature's authority to add the question about the council's size to this year's ballot. She criticized lawmakers for "meddling in city business."

But McIntosh said the effort to include the question about the council's size involves such community activist groups as Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, as well as organized labor. McIntosh said she and other state lawmakers would support those efforts -- at least this year.

To add a referendum question to the election ballot requires a petition with signatures of 10,000 city residents. But the legislature could take a different approach.

Richard E. Israel, an assistant attorney general, said the General Assembly has the legal authority to amend the Maryland Constitution and add the ballot question without a petition, even if the mayor and City Council objected.

Such an amendment, which would require a bill to be passed by the legislature, would have to appear as a question on a statewide ballot and be approved by a majority of Maryland voters.

"The charter of Baltimore is subject to the state constitution," Israel said.

McIntosh said she would not take such steps this year, but she said she believes the number of council members needs to be reduced to 12. The city maintains 18 council members plus the president, though it has lost 300,000 residents over the past few decades.

The council is considering two bills to reduce its size. One would reduce the council to 14, while the other would cut it to 16. Both also call for a president to be elected at large. Councilman Robert W. Curran, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, has scheduled hearings on the bills for May 1.

Mayor Martin O'Malley asked lawmakers this week to withdraw election bills in the Senate and House that would have moved the city's primary from September 2003 to September 2004. The administration plans to introduce new legislation next year.

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