Mary Pat & District 14 IN THE NEWS
Mary Pat cited as top voting City Council member| April 9, 2015, 9:59AM
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Let's stipulate from the start that there's more to being a City Council member than voting in committee hearings. They need to help constituents with everything from getting potholes filled to navigating the city's permit process. They mediate neighborhood disputes, they serve on boards and commissions, and they attend community association meetings. It would be understandable if all those other commitments, plus family and professional ones — this is, after all, supposed to be a part-time job — caused them to miss a vote or two here and there.
But missing half or more of the votes in committee? That was the case for three members, according to an analysis by The Sun's Luke Broadwater and Yvonne Wenger. The dismal records of Council members Helen Holton (who missed 50 percent), Warren Branch (54 percent) and Robert Curran (56 percent) represent a failure to fulfill the most basic task for which taxpayers are forking over $63,000 a year for their salaries. And although those three were the worst, they're not the only ones with low attendance. William "Pete" Welch, Nick Mosby and Rochelle "Rikki" Spector all missed between 30 percent and 40 percent of their committee votes.
The council members or their supporters offered up a variety of unconvincing excuses to Mr. Broadwater and Ms. Wenger. Some said they missed votes so they could meet with constituents or attend to other official business. Yet other members of the council managed excellent records. Mary Pat Clarke and former Councilman William H. Cole IV, for example, both managed to vote 87 percent of the time, and neither was ever accused of slacking off when it came to involvement with their constituents. (Mr. Cole's replacement, Eric Costello, gets a gold star for voting 100 percent of the time in what is, admittedly, a limited sample size of about six months.)
Mr. Welch, whose failure to show up for votes earned him a rare public rebuke from a fellow councilman, Brandon Scott, said that when constituents want to meet with him during the day, he tries to make that happen. But it seems hard to believe they wouldn't be accommodating if they knew that their requests were keeping him from doing the most basic part of his job.
Mainly, the attitude of the council members who responded to questions from Mr. Broadwater and Ms. Wenger was that so much of what passes through council committees really isn't that important. If that's how they feel, we wonder why they fought so hard to get these jobs in the first place. Mr. Curran had a different take, offering up the novel justification that he was typically in attendance at the meetings but frequently chose not to vote rather than to vote against bills with which he disagrees. Perhaps he intends that as some sort of professional courtesy, but what it does is to rob his constituents of the ability to know where he stands.
And that's perhaps the biggest point of all. We elect lawmakers to learn about the issues facing the community and to represent our interests. Committee hearings are the most important place for them to do that because that's where the real discussion takes place. It's where interested groups testify, and it's where the heavy lifting is usually done when it comes to amendments. If council members don't vote, constituents have no way of knowing whether they are truly representing the community's interests.
To that end, Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young deserves credit for an upgrade to the council's website that provides vastly more information on what happens in committee meetings than was previously available. The new system makes it easier for constituents to track issues of importance to them and to discover how (or whether) their representatives voted on them. For example, it's relatively simple to discover that neither Mr. Branch nor Mr. Curran was present for a committee vote on a new bill increasing fines for parents who double-park while dropping their kids off at school. Constituents shouldn't have to pore through hundreds of paper records at City Hall to find out what their representatives are doing in their names.
Though we certainly wish Mr. Young had managed to institute this upgrade sooner, it does come at a propitious time. Baltimore will hold municipal elections next year, and we hope this new level of information about our elected officials will prompt city residents to be a lot more diligent about voting than some of their council members have been.
Andrew Dunn on August 1, 2016
Lorraine Mirabella and Natalie Sherman on April 18, 2016