Baltimore’s incoming mayor already getting off to a bad start on corruption reform

When the city of Baltimore finally finished counting all of their ballots and dealing with a variety of dubious-looking “computer glitches” during Maryland’s recent primary election, City Council President Brandon Scott was declared the Democratic nominee to be the next Mayor of Charm City. At the time, I wrote that Baltimore had dodged a bullet because Scott only narrowly defeated disgraced former mayor Sheila Dixon. (She left office after her first election only reluctantly, because she’d been convicted of embezzlement.) Scott isn’t technically on his way to being the next mayor yet because there’s still a general election to be held. But that’s not likely to slow him down even if all thirteen of the Republicans in the city turn out to vote for their candidate. (That’s an exaggeration, but only slightly. Baltimore is more than 85% registered Democrats.)

There were a number of reasons to vote for Scott as I saw it. He’s young and not part of the old guard of corrupt party leaders who have been robbing the city’s piggy bank for decades on end. He also took a very tough stance on the deadly crime rates that are tearing the city apart, vowing to keep his citizens safe, or at least safer. But more than anything else, he put forward a detailed plan for how to make the offices of Baltimore’s elected officials less susceptible to corruption, add more transparency and clean up a very dirty political dynasty. Sadly, we’re still months away from the general election and at least on that latter goal, Scott is already starting to walk some of his anti-corruption reforms back. (Baltimore Sun)

When it comes to decisions on the city government’s purchases and contracts in Baltimore, historically the mayor gets what he wants.

Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott was on track to try to change that, but he has pulled the proposal for now, citing complications in reconfiguring Baltimore’s spending panel.

While Scott vows he will push changes to the Board of Estimates before the end of year, it is unclear how soon voters may be able to weigh in. Any proposed charter amendments need to be finalized in less than a month to make it on November’s general election ballot for a referendum.

The City Council is considering a number of proposals to restructure government that would go to voters for their approval in November.

To borrow a phrase from far too many common memes, this is a big effing deal. One of the chief reforms that Scott was supposedly going to push through was a series of changes to the purchasing and spending power of the Mayor. Under current city charter rules, all spending decisions are approved by the Board of Estimates. The Mayor is one member, but two of the other four members hold positions that are appointed by the Mayor and, as the Baltimore Sun rather bluntly puts it, “they vote accordingly.”

This is particularly important because, as many regular readers likely recall, interim Mayor Jack Young’s predecessor, Catherine Pugh, made all sorts of “interesting” spending decisions, particularly when it came to hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of her “Healthy Holly” children’s books, shady real estate deals and who knows what all else. The Mayor basically has the final say in where most of the discretionary spending goes. (Ms. Pugh is currently cooling her heels in a federal penitentiary.)

But now Scott is saying that there isn’t sufficient time to study the plan? The City Council can’t change the charter on its own. Any changes must be approved to go on the general election ballot as a referendum and the deadline for that is next month. Then, even if the voters approve the changes, there are more delays before they go into effect. So if Scott drags his feet, he’ll have at least a full year of being positioned to do things the way they’ve always been done down at Baltimore City Hall, with all the temptations that come along with the position today.

That’s not to say that he might not still come through with the reforms he promised. I certainly hope that he will. But to put it mildly, this isn’t a very good look for him before he’s even officially the Mayor-Elect.

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