City voters change election cycle, require more audits

Four charter amendments approved on city ballot

November 07, 2012|By Luke Broadwater, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore voters were poised to approve four charter amendments Tuesday, including one to move city elections to the same years that the nation chooses a president.

The city would hold its next election in 2016, under one of the changes leading by broad margins in early returns. The amendment would effectively give the mayor and city council — elected in 2011 — five-year terms this time, and in the future would allow local officials to run for state office without worrying about losing their city positions.

The General Assembly has already approved such a change.

Fells Point resident Zach Cabo, 27, said he voted for all four charter amendments, including the election cycle change.

"I don't love the fact it gives local politicians an extra year," he said. "But by and large, this seems like it would lead to more people voting."

The other charter amendments would require the city to audit 13 key agencies every four years, authorize a stormwater management fee and make it easier for members of minority political parties to serve on city boards and commissions.

At his polling place in Bolton Hill Tuesday, voter Chance Monroe said he especially liked the measure to require more audits, and added that he supported the city's many bond issues as well.

"I'm for audits," Monroe said after voting at Eutaw-Marshburn Elementary School. He said he also favors issuing bonds to raise money to repair school buildings and make capital improvements at cultural institutions.

"Spend as much money as you can to make this city better," he said.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was pleased the with results, her spokesman said, predicting victory on all four measures.

"Tonight, City voters overwhelmingly supported Mayor Rawlings-Blake's efforts to boost voter turnout in future city elections by shifting city elections to the presidential cycle," said Ryan O'Doherty, the mayor's spokesman.

Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, a civil rights leader and political consultant who opposed the change, said it aligning city elections with the governor's race would increase turnout without lengthening the terms of sitting officials.

"I was very disappointed that the city senators, city delegates and city council did not see it necessary to meet with the constituents," he said. "Why would they want to give themselves five years, rather than four? The elected officials were very selfish."

City Councilman Carl Stokes, who sponsored the audits bill, said he will likely push for even more frequent audits of city agencies and departments. He had initially sought to have 55 agencies audited every two years.

"Frankly, it's not what it should be, but we're grateful it passed because it builds a foundation for comprehensive audits," Stokes said. "We may have to come back and tweak it and make it even stronger in the future."

Another charter amendment would create a "financially self-sustaining storm water utility," which city officials say is needed to help pay for cleaning up Baltimore's badly degraded streams and harbor and to improve the Chesapeake Bay. Public works officials estimate the city needs to spend more than $250 million over the next several years on projects to keep trash and pollution from washing off city streets, parking lots and roofs and into local waterways when it rains.

Public works officials say homeowners could wind up paying $40 to $80 a year in fees to the utility.

Another measure would let members of smaller political parties, such as the Green and Libertarian parties, serve on city boards and commissions as minority representatives. Independents and members of all political parties already can serve, but cannot fill seats required by law to be filled by members of the second-largest political party, currently the Republicans. Under the charter amendment, anyone who is not a member of the majority party could fill those seats.

Voters were also expected to approve bond issues enabling the city to borrow money for school renovations and repairs and for improvements to the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, the Walters Art Museum and the Maryland Science Center.

"Mayor Rawlings-Blake is very pleased that City voters approved new bond funding for schools, neighborhood development and cultural institutions that support her goal to grow the city by 10,000 families," O'Doherty said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.

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