Baltimore voters will determine the fate of seven ballot measures when they cast their votes this November.
The referendums could have reverberations throughout the city: they will potentially limit city elected officials to two terms in office, establish local control of the Baltimore Police Department and move the city’s embattled vendor payment process away from the mayor and to the comptroller.
The seven proposed charter amendments and four bonds that will go before Baltimore residents face good odds: City voters approved every referendum that appeared on their 2016 and 2020 ballots.
The Maryland State Board of Elections will begin sending requested mail-in ballots to voters about three weeks before Election Day.
A yes vote on Question E would prohibit the sale, transfer or franchising of Baltimore’s conduit system, a 700-mile underground network of ducts that houses wires for telephone, electric, fiber-optic and street and traffic light services.
Companies such as Comcast and Verizon pay Baltimore to access the system. In 2015, amid discussions among city leaders to to increase the cost of access, Baltimore Gas and Electric Company tried and failed to buy the system for $100 million.
Then-City Council President Jack Young first introduced legislation to ban the city’s ability to sell the system in 2019, saying it would both prevent the privatization of basic city services and serve as a potential tool to expand broadband service citywide. The council signed the measure in 2020.
In 2018, Baltimore voters approved similar legislation to ban the privatization of its water and sewerage systems.
A yes vote on Question F would create a permanent fund to supplement rewards offered to the public for tips that lead to apprehensions, arrests and convictions of criminal suspects. The fund would not be used as a substitute for or replacement of existing funding for rewards offered by the Baltimore Police Department or any nonprofit organization, such as Metro Crime Stoppers, which operates a 24-hour hotline and website where residents can anonymously submit tips.
Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer proposed the Supplementary Criminal Apprehension and Conviction Fund last year, saying Baltimore should offer sums larger than $6,000 for tips related to gun-related homicides, and $4,000 for tips related to all other homicides. He also argued the fund would bolster equity by ensuring that residents grieving loved ones lost to homicide do not have to lean on their personal networks to fund larger rewards.
In the budget for fiscal year 2022, Mayor Brandon Scott allotted about $200,000 for Metro Crime Stoppers. If Question F passes, a subsequent piece of city legislation would specify the fund’s operational details, including the exact amount of supplementary cash. Schleifer has said rewards should never be less than $10,000.
Approval by voters and the passage of a council bill establishing the fine print would not guarantee that the mayor dedicates money in the budget to the fund.
A yes vote on Question G would create a permanent fund to support workforce development training such as pre-apprenticeship programs in city public schools and community colleges.
Council President Nick Mosby introduced the charter amendment in honor of Dante “Tater” Barksdale, an activist and community leader at the forefront of the violence intervention program Safe Streets. Barksdale was shot to death in 2021 in East Baltimore’s Douglass Homes complex. Mosby, a Democrat, has said that creating more job opportunities for at-risk youth will help prevent violence.
As with the Supplementary Criminal Apprehension and Conviction Fund, the council would need to subsequently establish the fund’s operational details, which does not guarantee the mayor includes it in his budget.
Question H may make voters blink with confusion — it is for “the purpose of establishing a Baltimore City Police Department, the head of which is the Police Commissioner.”
Of course, there already is a Baltimore Police Department. But BPD has functioned as a state agency since just before the Civil War. Lawmakers in Annapolis seized control of the department in 1860, after years of bloody fighting between the proslavery Democratic Party and the xenophobic Know-Nothing Party, which ran the city and its police department.
For the last 162 years, City Hall officials have not had the authority to fully regulate BPD. Although the mayor can develop a crime plan and hire the police commissioner tasked with implementing it, they must seek approval from the Maryland General Assembly to change policies as basic as police district maps. Council members can pass legislation that affects every city agency but BPD — such as a ban on the use of facial recognition technology.
In 2021, after decades of efforts from grassroots activists, state lawmakers passed legislation sponsored by city Democrats Sen. Cory McCray and Del. Melissa Wells to bring the question of local control over BPD to Baltimore voters. Mayor Brandon Scott helped draft the legislation and has said local control will improve city policing and meet essential consent decree requirements.
A yes vote on Question H would restore control over BPD to the city. If the measure passes, control would transfer on Jan. 1.
Question I would change the membership of the advisory board that oversees the Baltimore City Inspector General, the independent watchdog that investigates fraud, waste and abuse in City Hall.
The panel currently consists of multiple City Hall elected officials and their designees, who are subject to investigation by the inspector general. Inspector General Isabel Mercedes Cumming has fiercely criticized the board’s makeup, calling it ripe for potential conflicts of interest.
Councilwoman Odette Ramos wrote the charter amendment after the advisory board met to issue Cumming a performance evaluation.
A yes vote on Question I would change the composition of the board to consist of 11 city residents who are not elected officials, candidates for office or lobbyists. Seven of them will be chosen at random from those nominated by council members from their districts. Two members will be the deans of the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland schools of law. One member will be from a group of certified public accountants and one member will be from a group of fraud examiners.
A yes vote on Question J would move oversight of third-party vendor payments out of the finance department and to the city’s Office of the Comptroller.
The Department of Accounts Payable, which is housed in the city’s finance department, is responsible for paying an average of 10,400 vendor invoices each month. Should the measure pass, employees in the bureau’s accounts payable division would shift to the comptroller’s office, while payroll responsibilities would remain within the mayor’s office.
Democratic Comptroller Bill Henry said the charter amendment came about after he approached the Scott administration about transferring additional administrative duties to the office of the comptroller.
The payment system is beleaguered with delays; Henry said he’s received complaints from business owners who had to lay off employees because it took months or more than a year to receive payment for services rendered to the city. That leads to several consequences, he said: Some vendors stop work on current city projects until they are paid for previous jobs, or they stop taking contracts with the city altogether.
Henry said his office’s efforts to digitize bank records and the processes of the city’s spending board, which approves the bulk of city vendor contracts, will be complete by the end of 2022 and “will put us in a great position to apply the lessons we’ve learned over the first half of the term to procurement issues.”
A yes vote on Question K would establish a two-term limit for elected city officials, including the mayor, comptroller, City Council president and council members. It would also limit officials from holding office for more than eight years during any 12-year period.
If passed, the amendment would first apply to officials elected in 2024. If someone is elected to a partial term, they may only hold one consecutive full term thereafter. City officials are elected to four-year terms.
Question K is the only proposed charter amendment that was not written and approved by City Hall officials. David Smith, the executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, spent nearly $400,000 on a PAC that funded canvassing efforts to collect 10,000 signatures from city voters to put the measure on the ballot.
Sinclair, which is based in Hunt Valley, operates more than 180 television stations including Baltimore’s Fox45. The station has aired coverage critical of Scott — including conducting an unscientific poll asking if Scott should be recalled, although voters have no ability to recall Baltimore’s mayor. Scott has said he will only seek two terms as mayor.
Two similar proposals by elected officials have failed to pass out of City Hall. Schleifer and then-Councilman Bill Henry introduced legislation to limit council members, the mayor and the comptroller to three consecutive four-year terms in the same office. The bills died in 2020 and 2018, respectively.
This introduction of this article has been updated to correct which city process would move to the comptroller's office if Question J is approved.