Baltimore City Council approves Faith Leach as city administrator after committee reverses vote – Baltimore Sun

Just days after striking down her nomination, members of a Baltimore City Council committee reversed course Monday, unanimously recommending Faith Leach as Baltimore’s next city administrator.

The change of heart came after intense pressure from Mayor Brandon Scott’s office, as well as Leach’s supporters outside city government who spent the weekend lobbying council members. Supporters rallied Monday afternoon in front of City Hall just ahead of a do-over confirmation hearing before the council’s Rules and Legislative Oversight Committee.

The City Council voted unanimously Monday evening, without discussion, to finalize Leach’s appointment.

Council President Nick Mosby, a Democrat like the mayor and everyone on council, said the committee vote last week against Leach was never about her qualifications.

“It was about ensuring the second floor and the administration took the appropriate process of working with the council and engaging the council,” he said.

The mayor’s office is on the second floor at City Hall, while the council offices and chambers are on the fourth and fifth floors.

Mosby insisted, however, that the move was not an attempt to send a message to the mayor.

“The council did its job,” he said. “And that was ensuring that we didn’t move forward with this nomination without having the appropriate information.”

Scott said in a statement after Leach’s confirmation that he considers it a “pivotal” moment for the relationship between council and the administration, “paving the way for more fruitful collaboration in the future.”

A coalition of four council members initially voted to reject Leach during the committee hearing Thursday, despite a discussion that was largely complimentary of her. Members praised Leach’s communication with the council in her previous role as deputy mayor of equity, health and human services, while raising questions about the role of a city administrator in the executive branch.

The position was created in 2020 via a charter amendment spearheaded by Scott when he was a member of the City Council. Voters overwhelmingly approved the position via a ballot question.

Councilman Eric Costello voted “no” last week, but cast votes Monday in favor of Leach. He described Leach on Monday afternoon as a “really dedicated, hardworking public servant who’s always been responsive.” The vote last week was about concerns the council had with the structure of the city administrator office, he said.

“I’m confident after the conversations we had over the weekend with the mayor, with others, that we can, hopefully, work through those concerns,” Costello said.

The clash over Leach was the latest to erupt between the City Council and the mayor during what has been a rocky start to 2023. Scott’s hasty push to approve a multimillion deal with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to take over maintenance of the city’s conduit system for four years drew ire from much of the council, which convened an investigative committee to look into it. Scott forced an unorthodox vote of the Board of Estimates to approve the agreement, sparking a public rebuke by several council members.

The administration and the council also have sparred over the details of the city’s takeover of control of its police department from the state. Scott’s team has pushed to slow implementation and most recently proposed a clause limiting the amount of power the council would assume over the agency. Council members pushed back, holding a hearing and appearing before the General Assembly last week to voice objections.

Leach, who has been a visible representative for Scott leading the city’s outreach programs to squeegee workers and working on a guaranteed income pilot program, appeared to be caught in the crosshairs. Asked how it felt to be swept into a political fight between the mayor and the City Council, Leach said Monday afternoon that she remains focused on the job.

“I said last week during my opening remarks that I fell in love with the city of Baltimore, and I meant every word that I said,” Leach said. “I love the people of this city. I loved how the people of this city showed up for me during a very difficult time and they were in this chamber today … so I am focused on them.”

Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby, center, and council members, including Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, second from right, and Sharon Green Middleton, right, spoke in favor Monday of the nomination of Faith Leach as city administrator.

Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, another of the four council members who voted against Leach’s nomination last week, said the committee vote prompted communication between the mayor’s office and council members over the weekend that was markedly better than in the past.

“This past weekend has been one of the best collaborations and building relationships. All of this is a part of that,” she said.

Leach’s supporters on council lashed out last week at their fellow members as it became clear that her nomination was being torpedoed. Councilwoman Odette Ramos called those voting against Leach “irresponsible” as Leach’s supporters loudly applauded.

“We are here to give an opportunity for leadership in our city,” she said previously. “She’s performed anything I’ve ever asked and then some, frankly. If you have problems with the office … let’s do that somewhere else.”

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Councilman James Torrence questioned the validity of the vote since Costello appeared at the committee hearing remotely. Torrence stormed out of council chambers in protest.

“Tonight you have failed the citizens of Baltimore. We overwhelmingly voted for the office of the city administrator,” Torrence said. “You have violated the trust of this chamber and the people of Baltimore.”

Feuding continued over the weekend, with Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer writing Sunday on Twitter that Torrence cited the wrong council rule when he called for the committee vote to be invalidated.

Torrence apologized to his fellow members Monday during a midday meeting of the full council for his earlier outburst. He pledged to champion a change in council rules to clarify procedure.

Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott makes a statement Friday in support of Faith Leach, his nominee for city administrator, after a Baltimore City Council committee voted her down.

Council members have raised questions about mounting costs of the city administrator’s office. Last week, Costello asked Leach to justify the more than $908,000 in annual salaries paid to the city administrator and five staff members, particularly as the city has been unable to resume weekly recycling.

Under Leach’s predecessor, the city administrator was the second-highest paid city employee behind Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who made $276,375 in 2021. Leach currently makes $197,676, while her deputy makes $215,000. Two assistant city administrators are paid $129,000 and $147,961, respectively.

The city administrator is charged with leading the city’s staff of roughly 12,500 and managing efforts to tackle some of Baltimore’s most persistent bureaucratic challenges, such as water billing and procurement systems, as well as recycling collection.

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