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Henry Pushes City Government Reform

Councilman Bill Henry has proposed term limits, reducing the council and increasing the council's power over the budget.

Baltimore city government could look and run differently if Councilman Bill Henry has his way.

Henry, who represents the York Road corridor in North Baltimore, has proposed four amendments to the City Charter: term limits for elected officials; reducing the number of council seats; allowing the council to add funds to a proposed budget; and reduce the amount of votes to override a mayor’s veto

Henry's amendments would fundamentally alter the power structure of city government, which strongly favors the mayor. The council would not escape unchanged, as Henry also wants to shrink the size of the city's legislature.

"I think I can honestly say, with the possible exception of the term limits, which I’ve gone back and forth on over the course of my life, these ideas represent things that I’ve been thinking about since I was working for the Council," Henry said.

The experience last month, where the to voting to slash the budget, but eventually changed course was a catalyst in his decision to introduce the charter amendments, according to Henry.

"I was so angry after the budget was over and how that played out. And I just found it so frustrating that people who were willing to vote to cut the budget, so that the money could be re-purposed, would feel like ‘well if they mayor’s not going to come to the table and shift the money around what’s the point of me voting for this?" Henry said. 

The amendment extending the council’s power to make appropriations would allow the council to add spending to a proposed budget as long as there was commensurate cuts elsewhere. It would also eliminate the need for the Board of Estimates to make recommendations for supplemental spending.

An amendment to reduce the amount of votes to overturn a mayor’s veto would be dropped from three-fourths of the council to two-thirds of the members.

Henry is also proposing reducing the number of council members to nine, by creating six single member districts, with two council members elected citywide and the City Council President who would continue to be elected citywide. The council would elect one of the citywide council members at Council Vice President and the other as the planning commission representative. In 2002 city voters approved a charter amendment shrinking the council and creating single member districts and in 2004 14 single council members serving individual districts took office. 

One of the most sweeping proposals is to add term limits. They would limit citywide officials to two consecutive terms and three consecutive terms to council members in individual member districts to three consecutive terms. Currently there are no term limits for city officials. 

Three of the amendments suggested by Henry have the support of the City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.  Lester Davis, the Council President’s spokesman, said Young would be listed as a cosponsor the proposals for term limits, veto override votes and term limits.

A spokesman for the mayor declined to comment until the administration had adequate time to review the proposed charter amendments Henry submitted on Friday.  

If the council approves the charter amendments they would have to be approved by city voters.

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Sean Tully July 16, 2012 at 06:52 PM
Regarding Piont one: "term limits for elected officials". No. It limits our right to choose whom we want to represent us. If we don't want someone who is representing us to continue, we vote them out. If a majority of Baltimoreans don't vote, that is their problem and they must live with who the minority who votes elects. Point two: "reducing the number of council seats" No. The single member districts work good. I do like the city-wide council members idea, but it doesn't work well in a place like Baltimore because the two citywide members would focus on the rich sections of the city where they could gather campaign dollars. Point three: "allowing the council to add funds to a proposed budget". This idea isn't so objectionable, as long as the council must deduct funds from other areas as the councilman suggests. Piont four: "reduce the amount of votes to override a mayor’s veto" No. A veto should be a difficult thing to achive for the council. If not, nothing will ever get done in City Hall.
Sean Tully July 16, 2012 at 06:55 PM
The biggest change to city government we could make is to change our primary system. Instead of party primaries, as we have now, all candidates for offices should run in one primary. If any one candidate gets over 50% of the vote, that person wins and there would be no general election needed. If no single candidate gets 50% of the vote, then the top two candidates face off in November. That would open the government up and save money if a strong candidate is running and only needs to win the primary.

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