Councilman Costello: Baltimore charter bills distractions until next year

Adam Bednar//April 9, 2019

Councilman Costello: Baltimore charter bills distractions until next year

By Adam Bednar

//April 9, 2019

Mayor Catherine Pugh, surrounded by Councilman Eric Costello, Councilman Brandon Scott, and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young discusses a proposal to provide city police officers and firefighters a $2,500 tax credit to purchase a home in Baltimore. (Adam Bednar/The Daily Record)
Mayor Catherine Pugh, surrounded by Councilman Eric Costello, Councilman Brandon Scott, and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, at a 2017 news conference. (Adam Bednar/The Daily Record)

Baltimore City Councilman Eric Costello expects colleagues to push legislation to reform city government, but he called holding hearings on charter amendments before summer 2020 a distraction.

Costello serves as chairman of the Judiciary & Legislative Investigations Committee, which provides the committee hearings for legislation proposing a charter amendment. After the controversy about payments Mayor Catherine Pugh received for her self-published children’s books, the councilman said he anticipates “structural changes.”

He will not, however, grant hearings to proposed charter amendments until the summer before the 2020 elections, a policy consistent with his stance regarding similar legislation heading into 2018.

“No charter amendments are going to get a hearing until next summer. We don’t need to be distracted by that. We’ve got enough work on our hands right now,” Costello said in response to an audience member’s question at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Newsmaker Breakfast on Tuesday.

The possibility of removing a mayor from office prior to a conviction emerged as an issue in recent days. Pugh took a leave of absence last week, saying she needed to recover from a recent case of pneumonia, as calls mount for investigations into book deals with hospitals, insurance companies and nonprofits that have reaped her at least $800,000.

Over the weekend a spokesman for Pugh said the mayor intended to return to work when her health allowed. In response every City Council member, except for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, currently Baltimore’s acting mayor, signed a letter calling on Pugh to resign. The city’s delegation to the House of Delegates supported that action.

At least one charter amendment is on the radar of City Council members. Councilman Kristerfer Burnett, an aide confirmed on Monday, is considering a bill to put a charter amendment to voters creating a way to remove city elected officials, including the mayor, from office prior to conviction.

The aide said the charter amendment is one of several bills Burnett is considering. A source with knowledge of council operations said the charter amendment bill is expected to be introduced in the next few weeks.

The city charter does not provide a method for removing a mayor from office. The state constitution, as amended by voters in 2012, requires suspending elected officials once found guilty of felonies and certain misdemeanors. Officials are formally removed from office once they plead guilty or a conviction is final.

At this time, Costello said, he’s not interested into getting into protracted debates over issues such as changing the size of the Board of Estimates, adding a recall or removal function for the mayor’s office, or altering the budget process to boost the City Council’s power.

“I’m going to hold off on having those discussions formally in the council until probably May or June of next year, but I look forward to being a part of those discussions, and I think it’s very clear that there are structural changes to the way city government operates that are needed, no doubt about it,” he said.


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