Offsetting plans could stop cut to City Council

Voters' OK of more than 1 proposal might void all

Solicitor's office's opinion

5 possible systems face ballot time constraints

July 01, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

With five plans to shrink the size of Baltimore's City Council in play, it might look like change is inevitable at City Hall.

But the likelihood that the council will be revamped might have decreased.

The different plans would cancel each other out if two or more are put on the November ballot and are passed - at least that's the opinion of the city solicitor's office, which has been asked to sort out what would happen if multiple, contradictory council plans manage to win voter approval.

"If more than one passes, then most likely the preliminary ruling we've gotten from the solicitor is, neither one takes effect," said 3rd District Councilman Robert W. Curran, chairman of the council's Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee. "Both become invalid."

FOR THE RECORD - The size of the Baltimore City Council was reported incorrectly in a story yesterday about proposals to cut the number of members. The council has 19 members, including the council president. The Sun regrets the error.

Members of a coalition of community groups and unions that developed one of the plans said they think such an outcome is just what the council is hoping for, because it would protect the jobs of all 18 members.

The other four plans came from council members.

"I see that as just trying to kick us out of the ballpark, confuse people," said Rose Taylor of East Baltimore, co-chairwoman of the local chapter of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

Curran, who proposed one of the four plans from council members, said that is not the case.

"Any accusation that the council is trying to confuse the issue is completely baseless," he said. "This was done independently of them."

It is not certain that any of the plans will make it onto the ballot.

Taylor's group lacks 4,000 of the 10,000 petition signatures needed to bring the issue before voters and faces an Aug. 12 deadline.

Meanwhile, none of the four plans proposed by council members has made it out of Curran's committee for a council vote, a necessary step for any of them to be put on the ballot. The vote would have to happen at the council's next meeting July 15 if the plans are to go through normal procedural channels.

The council would have a last chance to vote at its Aug. 12 meeting. Getting approval at that late date would be tougher, because the council would have to waive normal voting procedures, Curran said. Fifteen council members instead of the usual 10 would have to agree for the vote to take place.

The plan from Community and Labor United for Baltimore, a coalition of unions and community organizations, seeks to cut four council seats and create single-member districts.

The group is collecting signatures to get the plan on the ballot. In May, it submitted 10,600 names to city officials, who found 6,000 of them valid, said Barbara Jackson, election director.

Two years ago, the League of Women Voters conducted a petition drive to put a referendum for a 10-member council on the ballot. The league failed to gain the 10,000 valid signatures required.

CLUB members, who include the League of Women Voters, say that under their plan council members would have to be more responsive than they are under the current system, which divides the city into six three-member districts. The council president would continue to be elected citywide under CLUB's plan.

Smaller districts also would make it easier for less affluent, less established candidates to get elected, CLUB members say.

Two of the four plans by council members push in the opposite direction. Instead of smaller districts, which they say would "Balkanize" the city, their plans call for two, new at-large seats.

"I think you need some council members who can focus on the global picture," said 5th District Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, who proposed one of the plans. She said the at-large seats would help groom future council presidents and mayors through citywide service.

Spector's plan calls for six two-member districts, two at-large seats, plus the council president, who would continue to run citywide.

Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh, who represents the city's 4th District, has submitted a similar bill, except her plan calls for three people to run at-large, with the top vote-getter serving as council president.

Spector would have the council presidency remain a separate race. She said some people might want to run citywide but not at the risk of winning the presidency, which carries extra responsibilities.

City Council President Sheila Dixon has proposed a 15-member council - seven two-member districts and the council president. Curran's plan is for a 17-member council, with four four-member districts and a president.

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