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

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 3/25/2009

On the agenda for March 16

Bill 09-0302 Parking Facilities --Enforcement. Would add an environmental citation carrying a possible $1,000-a-day fine to parking lot operators that fail to register and pay a $750-per-year city parking-lot tax.

The read: Councilman William Cole (D-11th District) told the council meeting that a participant in a recent craft fair had been towed from a Mount Vernon parking lot. "I found it was an unauthorized parking lot, and not paying the city [parking lot] tax," Cole says, but the "penalties for not paying the city taxes are elusive at best." He admits an ulterior motive with the bill: raising more money to operate a proposed downtown shuttle-bus system, which would keep cars out of the central business district.

Bill 09-0303 Cable Communications Advisory Commission--Membership. Would reinstate a moribund cable TV advisory commission.

Resolution 09-0119R Deployment of FiOS Services in Baltimore City through the Verizon Maryland Network. Asks for a reconstituted cable TV commission to join the Mayor's Office of Cable and Communications to tell the City Council why Verizon's FiOS service is available in surrounding jurisdictions but not in Baltimore City.

The Read: Comcast cable is the city's monopoly provider, and as such is supposed to be regulated in part by city government. One part of that regulatory system is the Cable Communications Advisory Commission. Councilman Cole discovered that the board has only six members--reflecting a City Council district system that was abolished about five years ago. "Even more troubling, I discovered that it doesn't exist," he says. Cole wants "someone" to appoint 14 new commissioners to this defunct board in order to hold hearings on why Verizon's FiOS system--a Comcast rival--has not yet been offered in Baltimore City. "I'll be blunt," Cole says. "I want FiOS in Baltimore." Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young (D-12th District) seconded that. "This service is not only cheaper, it's better," he says. "We were told it'd be years and years down the road before we would even be considered." Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th district) said she had gotten constituent e-mail blaming the City Council for holding up FiOS. "Ladies and gentlemen," she said, addressing the Comcast TV audience, "We are not holding up FiOS. Whatever it is, we want it."

Bill 09-0306 Tax Sales--Deferral for Unemployed. Would implement a one-year delay on the sale of unemployed people's homes for non-payment of property taxes.

The Read: Councilwoman Agnes Welch (D-9th District) introduced this at the suggestion of the African American Housing Coalition, a new organization with "easily 50 members," according to James Crockett, who answers the phone at the number provided in the bill. Crockett says coalition members are realtors, appraisers, loan officers, underwriters, and housing counselors. "Because of the economy, we know that a lot of people are out of work and can't pay their taxes," he says. He describes the organization as "a movement" similar to the old civil rights movement, with no officers, per se. Welch lauded the group's idea to the council. "They would have made money on these [tax] sales," she says. "But they wanted to help."

"I always thought that FiOS was a soccer team in the European league." --Councilman Robert Curran (D-3rd District)

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for March 30 at 5 p.m.

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