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Politicsby Mark Reutter1:00 pmSep 28, 20160

Jack Young to solicit private funds for City Council transition

Council President, throwing a party for retiring members, says approach saves taxpayer money

Above: Democratic City Council nominees for the 2016-2020 term pose on Sept. 9 for a campaign photo in front of City Hall with Council President Jack Young (in bright red tie), Democratic mayoral nominee Catherine Pugh (in white dress) and Comptroller Joan Pratt. (Fern Shen)

Bernard C. “Jack” Young has won approval to raise funds from private businesses to sponsor an “appreciation party” and other events for outgoing and incoming members of the City Council.

The Board of Estimates today waived a section of the City Code that prohibits the solicitation of a private gift by a government official and authorized Young, president of the City Council, and his staff to undertake the fundraising drive.

The solicitation will start today and last “no later than January 31, 2017.”

Young abstained from the measure, which was ratified by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Comptroller Joan Pratt and two mayoral appointees during a brief board session.

The exception from Article 8, Section 6-26 of the City Code will allow Young and seven staff members to solicit contributions, both cash and in-kind, from businesses, organizations and foundations that “may or may not be controlled donors.”

A “controlled donor” is a person or entity that does or seeks to do business with the city. All municipal contracts over $25,000, including those going to foundations, must be approved by the Board of Estimates. Young serves as the board’s president, although the mayor retains majority control of the votes.

Young’s spokesman, Lester Davis, downplayed the amount of money that is expected to be raised from the solicitation, while emphasizing his boss’ concern for saving taxpayer money and acting in a transparent manner.

He said the donations are not expected to exceed $10,000 and will include “an appreciation party celebrating the many years of service” of exiting Council members and an ethics session, training materials and at least one luncheon for new members.

Young inaugurated the transition activities because of the number of newcomers to the Council. Several nominees contacted later said they had never been informed by Young of his plans,

Eight new members and seven incumbents were elected in the Democratic Party primary last April. All are expected to win in the November 8 general election and take office on December 5.

Donations through City Foundation

The Baltimore City Foundation will act as the program’s fiscal agent, while Young’s office will allocate the funds for the transition activities.

The foundation is a quasi-public organization set up to “enhance the quality of life for the citizens of Baltimore.” It is charged with supporting youth and underprivileged residents as well as encouraging public-private collaborations in areas of health and human services.

Owing to the foundation’s nonprofit status, persons writing checks for the Council party and other activities will be able to deduct the costs as a charitable tax write-off.

The city ethics board will be asked to approve the gift exception, most likely at its next meeting in October, said deputy ethics director Thaddeus Watulak.

How the money is dispersed will be reported to the board. “If there is something that is a discrepancy or concern, we can follow-up,” Watulak said.

In its application to the panel, the Council President’s Office pledges not to provide “exclusive access or special treatment to any business, organization, foundation or nonprofit” that is solicited for donations.

According to Davis, a list of the businesses and foundations to be approached by Young and his staff has not yet been compiled. It will be made available when it is.

“This is the first time we’re having a transition period for the Council,” Davis said. “And the city does not have a lot of cash to do these things.

“Any time the private sector can offset expenses and save taxpayer money, the president is in favor of that. The more open and transparent you can be, the better.”

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