Brandon M. Scott, the likely winner of the upcoming mayoral election in Baltimore and current City Council president, wants to introduce a city administrator position and reform the city’s powerful Board of Estimates. He says his reforms would professionalize the city, pointing to similar changes in neighboring governments.
But former Democratic mayors Martin J. O’Malley, Sheila A. Dixon, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Kurt L. Schmoke pushed back on Scott’s proposed changes during a virtual discussion on Monday. Rawlings-Blake went so far as to say his reforms would be “akin to being in a prize fight, jumping in the ring and then tying one arm behind your back.”
Scott said he’s spoken with each of the former mayors, and told Maryland Matters that he “respectfully disagrees” with their criticism. He said the structure of Baltimore’s city government is stuck in the past.
“When you’re a city like Baltimore, that my entire life has struggled with efficiency and effectiveness with a government structure that has not been modernized,” Scott said, “and you see every other locality around you, and most major cities around the country, have been operating in that way and are all operating at a level much greater than you, then it’s not them. It’s you.”
Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s county executives all have administrators working with them, Scott said. He said a city administrator wouldn’t circumvent the power of the mayor, but would rather professionalize the day-to-day operation of the city. He says Baltimore City lags behind other governments because of an unwillingness to change from the top.
“We suffered from having folks who take any change to the structure as weakening their own power, and not understanding that pushing the best practices and policies and structures in city government only strengthens their power,” Scott said.
Scott led the Baltimore City Council in overriding a veto on the administrator position by lame-duck mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) this year, paving the way for voters to decide on the position during the upcoming election.
Scott also took issue with Schmoke’s assertion that it’s the people in government, rather than the structure of government, that makes a difference. Schmoke said he doesn’t believe that the structure of government is what causes corruption or inefficiencies, but Scott said reform needs to run deeper than electing a new mayor.
The city’s racist past, including its long history of deliberate racial segregation, still haunt the structure of Baltimore’s government today, Scott said.
“You will not only do that kind of deep structural change with just people,” he said. “It has to be a structural change as well.”
The former mayors were critical of Scott’s plan to reform the city’s Board of Estimates. He previously considered cutting the spending body to include only elected officials — an idea that Dixon, his opponent in the city’s recent Democratic primary, said might politicize and slow down the city’s spending process.
Earlier this year, Scott introduced a charter amendment that would’ve removed mayoral appointees from the Board of Estimates. At the time, Scott pointed to former mayor Catherine E. Pugh’s corruption scandal as a reason to curtail the board’s power. He later postponed a vote on that amendment.
Scott said he still plans to reform the board, but added that his research is far from complete as to exactly how it’ll be done. All options are on the table, but Scott said his final proposal could look different than a simple reduction in the size of the board.
“Where we are at now is that we know that this system needs to be reformed in some fashion,” Scott said. “Our commitment is to present something to the voters that will be what we think is the best action for the city of Baltimore.”