Vote Locally, Act Locally — My November Update
Updated: Jan 11, 2021
It's November, it's Fall, it's the end of Daylight Saving Time, and it's Election Week (not just one day). A lot is changing under our feet all at once this month. Many things, I hope, are changing for the best.
As I write this email, we don't yet know who our next President will be, but I'm hopeful that we'll soon know for sure that our country has rejected the fascism of Donald Trump by denying him a second term.
Here in Baltimore City, I'm humbled to have won a second term as your City Councilman for Baltimore's 3rd District. I'm looking forward to continuing the work.
Baltimore Votes — Even In A Pandemic
This year's primary election showed that Baltimore could adapt to an election unlike any in our lifetime, with most voters using mail-in ballots, and only limited in-person voting. For November's General Election, we also used a hybrid model, although it was a bit more like a normal election than the primary. Here's a bit about how the City and the 3rd District voted, based on the limited information available at the moment.
Baltimore City Voters 3rd District Voters
Voted By Mail 100,873 7,752
Voted Early 58,933 4,775
Total* 167,420 12,989
2016 Total 233,875 16,543
As of Wednesday, November 4, with only 4% of Election Day totals reporting As you can see, with the Election Day vote not yet reported, total voting lags behind 2016. It's also clear that even when the last votes are counted, most Baltimore City Voters will have chosen either to vote early or vote by mail. Across the State of Maryland and the entire United States, Election Day voting was down this year because more voters chose to vote by mail or vote early. And despite the unusual nature of the this year's General Election, we're headed for record turnout nationally as so many people have recognized just how important this election is.
I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the votes in Baltimore City and across the country being counted. Stay tuned!
Artist/District This Saturday
I'll give one more quick plug for this Saturday's community presentations for this year's Artist/District cohort. This year, we were able to support six amazing 3rd District artists. Artist/District provides financial support for artists, awarded via a simple lottery that is weighted for racial equity. The goal is for there to be as few strings attached to this funding as possible—artmaking is inherently valuable, and we need to make more efforts to help artists defray everyday costs so they can focus on their work.
Join us on Saturday, November 7 at 1pm for the community presentations, live via Zoom and Facebook live. We'll hear a little from each artist about what the grant meant to them. See you there.
Right now, three of my bills are currently on Mayor Young's desk awaiting signature. I've mentioned these bills in previous updates: Council Bill 19-0431, my Towing Reform legislation, Council Bill 20-0549, my bill to rename the Columbus Obelisk to the Victims of Police Violence Monument, and Council Bill 20-0557, legislation I co-authored with Councilwoman Shannon Sneed, creating a Baltimore City Administrative Procedure Act.
All three of these important bills need to be signed into law before the end of this Council term, so we will need to keep pressure on Mayor Young to make sure these bills are signed into law.
To read more about my legislative work, visit www.electryandorsey.com, where all of my bills are listed.
Another Tool In the Legislative Toolkit: Study Bills
On Monday, my Council Bill 20-0558 on commuting benefits for City workers was amended into a study bill. While study bills are a common practice at the general assembly in Annapolis, they are rarely used at the City Council level. Study bills are useful because they task agencies with conducting research that helps make legislation better, and helps the City Council to make better informed decisions. I'm hoping to use this tool more next term.
The study bill that will be created by Council Bill 20-0558 if it passes 3rd Reader at the next Council meeting will require the Department of Human Resources and the Department of Finance to jointly issue a report to the Mayor and City Council evaluating how the City currently provides parking benefits to top managerial employees, including identifying formal eligibility criteria (none exist currently).
The heart of the study will be a cost-benefit analysis comparing the fiscal prudence of paying a parking benefit for the 10% of employees who already get paid the highest salaries, versus a "cash-out" program that allows eligible employees to receive a cash benefit to put towards whatever transportation they choose. Since historically only the top paid employees have been offered any kind of commuting benefit, I've also requested that the study look at other benefits the City could provide all employees, such as bulk purchasing bus passes.
I'm looking forward to the results of this study and to taking up this issue again next term.
Thinking About Next Term Priorities
Speaking of next term, a new term as your legislator means it's time to think about new priorities to pursue, and I'm hopeful to hear input from 3rd District residents and others throughout the City who care about advocating for policy change that will make a difference. If there's something you think I should be working on, please don't hesitate to reply to this email, or email me at email@example.com, and let's talk about it.
There are a few things I've been thinking about already that I'd like to start sharing more widely as we move towards the new term.
Abolish the Board of Estimates
There have been a number of proposals over the past year to reform Baltimore's Board of Estimates, which as you may know is a unique governmental body in Baltimore that makes decisions on City contracts and approves many types of agreements or formal City business conducted between the City and external entities.
The Board of Estimates makes the news when something controversial is before it to approve, such as the recent renewal of the City's contract with the Wheelabrator incinerator for an additional 10 years.
In its current form, the board has five voting members; the Mayor, Council President, the Comptroller, the City Solicitor, and the Director of Public Works. The last two members work directly for the Mayor, and so their votes are largely considered to be controlled by the Mayor, effectively giving the Mayor a majority of 3 votes out of a total of 5 on the Board. When the Comptroller or the Council President vote against a Mayoral priority, in other words, it is largely symbolic—they have no real power to stop the Mayor from doing something they want to do.
The proposal that is often advanced is to eliminate the Mayor's additional votes, reducing the size of the Board of Estimates to three from five, thus giving more power to the Council President and the Comptroller. Instead of the Mayor running the City, in other words, any two of those three top City officials could work together at any given time to control City decision making, all three potentially acting on their individual political motivations and calculations.
This proposal has some pros and cons, but in studying it, I've concluded that those who favor going this route are overthinking things. The real answer here is to eliminate the Board of Estimates entirely. Why? Well, there are almost no other cities in the United States who still use this kind of spending board. These boards are a relic of late 19th century government, when industrializing cities were expanding so rapidly that they needed to create ad hoc procedures to stay on top of City decision making. Today, the functions of the Board of Estimates — such as procurement and approvals of important City commitments — would be better handled by professionalized staff or directly by the City Council.
I don't have the exact answer yet on how to abolish the Board of Estimates, but I'm looking forward to working with City residents, policy experts, and my colleagues in my next term to study this issue further and develop a proposal to place on the 2022 ballot for approval by voters.
If you'd like to be involved, reply to this email, or you can always email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Myth of Community Policing
In my experience, one of the most misunderstood concepts in policing and public safety is community policing. Community policing has been advanced as a kind of policy panacea that can fix all of the ills of modern policing. The way the logic goes is that modern policing is suffering from a crisis of legitimacy, and that that crisis is rooted in the devolution of trust between the community and the police. This logic continues that the solution therefore must be to develop a policy response that allows the police to rebuild trust with the community, namely by increasing positive interactions and positive police presence between the police and the community.
This concerns me because community policing has been one of the policy bulwarks advanced to stop the influence of the Defund the Police movement and related activism calling for real reform. Proponents of community policing say that the answer is not to Defund the Police, but rather to double and triple our efforts to spend more on the police so that police can finally be properly trained, or that police forces with more staff can increase their positive interactions with the community.
Unfortunately, this is built on a myth. The origins of policing have unfortunately always been illegitimate. Policing was developed in the 19th century to advance two different goals: on one hand, to ensure that enslaved persons could not escape slavery, and on the other, to protect the growing capital of industrialists from control by their workers, and to wage violence on workers who attempted to strike for better working conditions.
The myth of community policing is that policing in its current form can ever truly empower or protect the community. Real safety cannot come from a model that is built on these foundations, rather, we have to rethink the institution of policing by putting the community—not the police—at the center of it, and building from there.
Around the 3rd District
Few projects are as important to the 3rd District as the replacement of the Harford Road Bridge. This bridge had deteriorated to a dangerous condition in 2016 when I was running for office, and ensuring that a new bridge would better serve the community was something that I campaigned strongly on. It's been a long road (no pun intended) to seeing this project completed, but we are now truly entering the final stages of construction. With two years of work under our belts, we're on schedule for a brand new Harford Road bridge to open next year at about this time.
It's exciting just to be able to say that we have a City project that is on time, but I'm also proud to have played a role in advocating that the design of the new bridge will serve not just cars, but bikes and pedestrians as well. Community members and my office are eagerly awaiting DOT's plans for a revised streetscape for the bridge that would include these changes.
3rd District Ride Along Takes Off
In what is quickly becoming a 3rd District institution, we had a great turnout for our most recent 3rd District Ride Along on October 31.
This time we took the border streets around the district, tracing the complete perimeter. It was a more vigorous ride than usual, but we had a great time as usual.
Local Control of BPD
Another issue that has been getting a lot of buzz in light of nationwide calls for police reform has been that of local control of the Baltimore Police Department. While I fully support this and believe it is necessary, I would like to take a moment to discuss some of the considerations that should be key in any local control bill or bills in Annapolis during the 2021 session.
Authority to set policy. The heart of the local control concept is that Baltimore City government, i.e., the City Council as the legislative body of the City, should be able to set policies for the Baltimore Police Department. BPD should have to be accountable to the people of the City that it polices, and not be able to block legislation by requiring state legislature sign off for policies like use of force guidelines, operational requirements, safeguards against particularly dangerous officers (for example, those committing domestic violence) and to set other best practice guidelines. Another key policy area is setting basic parameters for contract negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police, which is necessary not just to end overtime abuse and other issues that have to do with scheduling and work rules, but the ability to more swiftly get rid of obvious bad actors, rather than keeping the around on admin duty or paid suspension.
Empowering the OIG to investigate BPD. Since passing my charter amendment that created Baltimore's Inspector General as an independent office, free of influence or control by other City officials, we've seen just how effective an empowered OIG can be. Currently, because we don't have local control, the OIG cannot investigate BPD. Any local control policy should enable the OIG to do so.
Shield the City from tort liability. Finally, any local control policy should maintain the current protection from tort liability that comes from BPD being a state agency. This can be done by simply legislating the necessary powers at the state level, without altering its fundamental status as a state agency.
I'm sure there are many other considerations that must be included. One, of course, is simply to understand the limitations of local control. Local control in and of itself isn't a complete answer without other reforms, most notably, repealing the Law Enforcement Officer's Bill of Rights (LEOBR), an arcane and pernicious obstacle to policing reform in our state.
However, I'd suggest that the three considerations above could form the backbone for a solid local control policy that when coupled with other necessary reforms would finally restore some accountability of BPD to Baltimore's residents where it belongs.
Staying Accessible to Constituents
I'm always available to handle constituent work. Please don't hesitate to reach out via email at email@example.com. Additionally, if you need to talk about an issue more at length, or if it's just easier to talk to me directly, you can always sign up for a 15-minute appointment using Calend.ly/RyanDorsey.
Once you've signed up for your appointment, instructions for using the virtual meeting platform will be emailed to you. I'm looking forward to hearing from you and assisting in any way I can.
There's More Where This Came From
That's all for this update. If you like what you're reading here, you can always make a small donation to support my campaign fund. Your support keeps me working on the issues that matter to me, and ensures that I can run a successful campaign without large corporate or PAC donations.
Remember, the world keeps changing, but we all get at least a little bit of a say in what kind of change we see.