Council To Consider Charter Changes In Wake Of Pugh Scandal

Mon, Apr 29, 2019

Amid multiple investigations related to the business dealings of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, City Council members are floating several amendments to the City Charter.

One of the amendments will allow the council to launch investigations and to remove the mayor officials accused of misconduct. Currently, under the state constitution, elected officials may only be removed in the case of a conviction.

Under the charter amendment, sponsored by City Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, a mayor could be removed following a lengthy investigation and a three-fourths majority vote of the city council. 

Councilman Bill Henry is among the co-sponsors of the measure.

“We took the approach that this is serious business, removing some one by the voters should not be easy,” Henry said.

Henry is sponsoring two other charter amendments. One would lower the majority of council members needed to override a mayor’s veto from four-fifths (12 votes) to two-thirds (10 votes). Henry says that the city’s “strong mayor” system gives the mayor a lot of power, and that it is very difficult for the city council to override a mayor’s veto.

Henry is also sponsoring a charter amendment that gives the council greater authority to transfer money in the city budget. 

All three of the measures would have to go before voters in the November 2020 election if they are approved by council members. They would not take effect until December 2020, after the winner of next year’s mayoral election takes office.

This afternoon, Burnett, Henry and Councilman Ryan Dorsey will hold a news conference to talk about these measures. Last week, Dorsey introduced a series of ethics reforms for city government.

One bill would require that people within certain positions understand the requirements to file financial disclosure statements and the consequences of not doing so. 

The following two bills would protect whistle-blowers who present crime information from retaliation and transitions the responsibility of the ethics board from the Department of Legislative Reference to the inspector general.

Ten people seeking to unseat incumbent council members came out in support of the charter amendments. A joint statement was released by District 2 candidate Tamira Dunn; Katina Burley and Chris Ervin in District 5; Gary Crum, Dave Heilker, Emma Oppenheim and Phillip Westry in District 12; Angie Winder in District 4; Ray Conaway in District 10; and Joe Kane in District 14.

"Now is the time to balance power between the executive and legislative bodies of our city government," they said. "Though some of us are opposing one another in competitive districts, we all believe in the importance of common sense reforms; we have come together in recognition of the need to empower the future City Council to advocate forcefully on behalf of the people of our respective districts.”

Earlier this month, the entire City Council sent Pugh a letter demanding her resignation. Acting Mayor Jack Young, typically the council president, has said it would be "self-serving" to directly call for Pugh's resignation, since under the charter, he would succeed her.

Pugh began a leave of absence due to pneumonia on April 2. When Young took over her duties, he said he was merely a "placeholder" and that he intended to run for City Council president in 2020.

Her attorney told reporters on Friday that the mayor is still ill, as she recovers at her Ashburton home. Steven Silverman said the mayor would not make any decision about her future before Tuesday

Last week, FBI agents raided Pugh’s home and City Hall office, taking documents and electronic devices. 

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