Choose your poison

May 23, 2002

BY COLLECTING 10,600 signatures, an activist coalition has virtually ensured that Baltimore voters will decide in November whether they want a smaller City Council. That is very good news.

Through its petition drive, Community and Labor United for Baltimore (CLUB) is performing another important public service as well. By presenting a plan for 14 single-member districts, it is compelling the City Council to choose its own poison. If the 18 council incumbents - who are elected from six multimember districts - want to defeat the threat of compelled reorganization, they have to come up with a viable downsizing blueprint of their own.

They are working on it. The council, without any discernible enthusiasm, has been considering two bills. One would shrink it by two members, the other by four. But both would retain the multimember district setup, which CLUB's plan would abolish.

All of these proposals - including CLUB's - are inexcusably timid. A 14-member council, however the districts are organized, would still be too large for Baltimore. The city has lost one-third of its population since 1950, when an 18-member board may have been warranted. Today, nine or 11 would be far more realistic and more in line with the size of councils in such jurisdictions as Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties.

The most important thing, though, is to bring accountability to the council, whose time-servers have grown unresponsive to constituents' needs. In that respect, the CLUB initiative is a step in the right direction - but only the first step.

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