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Keeping tabs on the City Council's activities so you don't have to

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 6/25/2008

On the Agenda for June 16

This week the City Council held its annual two-for-one meeting--two separate and distinct meetings, separated by two hours, during which the council discusses the city budget, among other things. This longstanding tradition gives council members very little time to digest the budget before voting on it. The process is meant to jam the budget through at the last possible moment, lest some mischievous council member get a notion to amend some part of it. In the end the budget passed, speeches were made two floors below at the Board of Estimates chambers, and The Youth were disappointed.

As expected, the council held the city's property tax rate steady at $2.268 per $100 valuation, foregoing a planned 2-cent tax reduction. Councilman James Kraft (1st District) decried the tax rate, saying the council should have cut it 2 cents as originally planned as part of a five-year reduction. The council also--on a roll call vote--rebuffed a last-minute amendment by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (14th District) that would have directed the first $4 million of any budget surplus (although none is anticipated) to three different programs, including $3 million for a tutoring program called Peer-to-Peer Youth Enterprises. Audience members from the Peer-to-Peer group filed out after the measure failed, 13-2, with yes votes from only Clarke and Councilman Bill Henry (4th District).

There were also a couple of proposed resolutions that look hard-edged, and a couple that looked, well, tardy. We'll take them in twos.

08-0053R--Informational hearing--Suspension Practices of City Agency Supervisors

08-0054R--Baltimore City Police Department--Legal Expenses

The Story: Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young (12th District) sponsored both of these measures, and while they may look unrelated, they both fit with a theme he's struck lately: that the city's managers just might be disciplining ordinary workers (and patrol officers) in an arbitrary and capricious way (Councilmania, Feb. 13). "It seems to be punitive," Young says of the suspensions of city workers. "In the real world, you get a verbal [warning], then a written, then suspension." The second bill is an invitation to city legal staff to tell the council how much the city spends on legal expenses for the police department-presumably including defending itself against officers fighting to get their jobs back. "This is something we should really, really know," Young says.

08-0051R--In Support of Fireworks Safety Month " . . . By reminding Baltimore City youth and their parents that it is illegal to use or even have fireworks in Baltimore City."

08-0052R--Informational Hearing--Prohibition Against Fireworks in Baltimore City Requests that Fire Chief James Clack undertake a public-information campaign to warn the public about the dangers of fireworks.

The Story: Councilwoman Agnes Welch (9th District) introduced these resolutions at the council's 3 p.m. session, and almost all of the council members signed on as co-sponsors. The first resolution is pretty standard, requiring no action from anyone. The second resolution caused a couple of problems, since July 4th comes before the next scheduled council meeting, and all the council committees are full-to-burstin' with bills and resolutions that need hearings. One wonders, if fireworks safety is such a pressing issue, why Welch waited until mid-June to ask for a hearing/public information campaign on the subject. Welch eventually suggested that the fire chief call a press conference.

City Council Quote of the Week

"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten." --Councilwoman Helen Holton (8th District), in support of 08-0049R, a resolution calling for "outcome-based budgeting that accurately reflects the priorities of the City residents whose tax dollars pay for city services." What a concept!

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for July 21 at 5 p.m. BE THERE!

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