Henry ethics proposal called charter violation

Councilman would amend mayor's change on panel makeup

February 28, 2010|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com

A city councilman's proposed amendment to ethics legislation introduced by Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake would violate the terms of Baltimore's charter, according to an opinion issued by the city solicitor.

The proposal, intended to limit the mayor's influence over the ethics board, was suggested by Councilman Bill Henry last week, but he has not drafted an amendment.

Currently, the mayor controls all nominations to the five-member volunteer panel, which came under scrutiny during former Mayor Sheila Dixon's public corruption trial.

Under the measure Rawlings-Blake has introduced, the mayor would cede two of the nominations to the comptroller and City Council president. The mayor would continue to nominate the other three members of the board.

At a committee work session on the legislation last week, Henry questioned whether Rawlings-Blake's proposal went far enough. He suggested that the mayor should have the power to nominate no more than two members.

But city solicitor George Nilson wrote in a letter issued Friday that the mayor "shall have the sole power of appointment of all municipal officers," under the city charter.

Henry's plan "would clearly make the appointment provisions of the legislation illegal under the charter - thus subjecting the Bill to potential veto and/or invalidation in a court action," Nilson wrote.

Nilson's letter also suggests that Rawlings-Blake's proposal would require amendments to bring it in line with the charter.

In an e-mail to the city solicitor, Henry asked why his proposal would be considered a violation of the charter if the Rawlings-Blake's bill was not.

"If the bill as written - or amended per the Law Department - is okay in giving the other two citywide elected [officials] each one nominee, then I can't see any reason why what I'm considering would be out of bounds," Henry wrote.

The measure is scheduled for a committee vote March 8. If it is approved by the committee, the council could vote on it as soon as March 22.

Rawlings-Blake has stated that ethics reform is among her top priorities. The bill, which she introduced at her last meeting as council president, is considered a signature initiative.

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