City Council creates Equity and Structure Committee

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Photo by Christopher Sessums, via Flickr

The Baltimore City Council on Monday created a new committee to hold hearings on a series of charter amendments proposed in the wake of former Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly” scandal and implement the Equity Assessment Program unanimously passed by the council last year.

The Equity and Structure Committee, as it’s known, will be chaired by City Councilman Bill Henry (District 4), and include Councilman Kristerfer Burnett (District 8) and Councilwoman Danielle McCray (District 2)*.

Members will provide oversight of the equity plans developed by city agencies to comply with the program, ensuring they are treating citizens and workers fairly regardless of their race, gender or socio-economic status.

One item on the committee’s agenda is another proposal by City Council President Brandon Scott, introduced in September, requiring future bills to have an equity assessment and fiscal note attached.

But the bulk of the measures it will take up would fundamentally alter city government. Among the proposals: reducing the number of votes needed to overturn a mayoral veto, from three-quarters to two-thirds; creating a city administrator position to appoint and remove local officials; allowing the council to remove the mayor with the approval of three-fourths of its members; giving the council more power in the budgeting process; and developing a commission to review the city charter once a decade.

Pugh resigned in May after multiple investigations by the Baltimore Sun found she sold her “Healthy Holly” children’s books as part of a self-dealing scheme on the board of the University of Maryland Medical System, and to organizations that had contracts with the city. She pleaded guilty to four federal conspiracy and tax evasion charges in November.

If enacted, all the charter amendments would be put on the ballot in the 2020 election. Voters overwhelmingly backed Scott’s charter amendment creating the equity program, along with a $15 million budget to end “structural and institutional racism.”

“Baltimore City has a long history of racial inequality,” Scott said in a statement. “It’s absolutely imperative that we do all that we can as a Council to address the structural barriers that hold us back.”

In a statement, Henry pledged the transparency and accountability measures will receive a robust public conversation. The committee’s first hearing is scheduled at City Hall on Jan. 15 at 5 p.m. Subsequent hearings will be announced, and Henry’s office said they will be held at night in various parts of the city “so residents have multiple opportunities to weigh in.”

*Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated City Council President Brandon Scott would serve on the Equity and Structure Committee. Baltimore Fishbowl regrets the error.

Brandon Weigel

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