Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Editorial: A failure to communicate

The Baltimore City Council’s recent effort to hire legislative counsel independent of the city solicitor’s office speaks volumes about the vast gulf between the mayor’s office and the lawmaking body, particularly President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Earlier this month, the council, against the recommendations of the city solicitor, approved a local hiring bill that requires any person or entity who “has a contract with the city for more than $300,000” or “will benefit from more than $5 million in assistance for a city subsidized project” to ensure that at least 51 percent of the jobs required for a project be filled by city residents.

City Solicitor George Nilson, who is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the mayor, opposed the bill because he says it violates the Constitution’s Privileges and Immunities Clause.

“Since the goal of lessening unemployment can be achieved without discriminating against nonresidents, courts strike down local preference laws almost uniformly,” Nilson’s office wrote in a May memo.

At the time the bill passed, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake indicated she would not sign it, due in part to Nilson’s concerns. The bill will still become law, but it will be delayed.

On the same day the council passed the local hiring legislation, Young introduced a proposal that would let the council hire its own lawyer at a cost of $100,000.

“The city solicitor works for the mayor,” Young told The Daily Record. “Everyone knows that. In my opinion, the Law Department is the mayor’s law department. It’s not the City Council’s law department. We would get legal advice that is not one-sided. That is why I am going to look at getting … our own legal counsel.”

Talk about making a statement. With this move, Young is not only suggesting that Nilson’s counsel is politically based, but also that his loyalties are divided between the mayor and the city as a whole. If true, those implications pose grave threats to the city’s overall well-being.

However, having dueling attorneys within a single government that is supposed to, through checks and balances, always act in the city’s best interests also poses a threat to progress in Baltimore.

It’s impossible to know for certain what factors within Nilson’s mind led to his conclusion on the constitutionality of the hiring bill, but the memo is well-thought-out and there is ample case law to back his opinion. It certainly doesn’t come off as a partisan, politically motivated conclusion.

Besides, the council ignored the advice anyway. If it had a $100,000 attorney on the books to bless the decision, would that have changed the outcome in any way?

Of course not. Instead, what city residents now get is another episode (privatization of recreational centers and the Grand Prix are two other recent examples) of the mayor and council involved in a public spat that shows the depth of the dysfunction at City Hall.