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

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/1/2009

On the agenda for March 23

Bills 09-0309 Building, Fire, and Related Codes--Enforcement and 09-0310 Building, Fire, and Related Codes--Service Charges and Permit Fees. These will allow building officials to issue environmental citations for code violations, and increase permit fees by changing the way some are calculated.

The read: The first bill appears to target contractors who leave a mess--construction debris, Dumpsters, and such--on their work sites, blocking the sidewalk or street. It sets a $500 fine for working after a stop-work order is posted, and a $250 fine for improperly storing waste and debris. It would fine the owner of a truck or trailer cited under the law. The second bill modifies construction-permit fees. For one- and two-family houses, the new law would effectively double the permit fee to 20 cents per square foot of added space (the old formula was based on cubic volume, but amounted in most cases to about 10 cents a square foot). For other buildings, the rate increases from $20 per 1,000 cubic feet to 35 cents per square foot, which is also almost double, depending on the height of one's ceilings. For repair and renovation work, the formula is changing from the common (and easily cheated) method of charging $10 for every $1,000 of estimated renovation cost, to 30 cents per square foot of "affected gross floor area." The minimum fee is $50.

Resolution 09-0121R--Baltimore City Police Department--Online Transparency--Reporting Systems for Officer Related Shootings and Preliminary Crime Statistics. Would require the police department to post on its web site the results of investigations into police-involved shootings, in addition to monthly crime statistics.

The read: "We're striving for the highest level of transparency that is possible," says Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D), who introduced the bill. But "these do omit the name of the officer and the witness" to "strike a balance between transparency and privacy."

Resolution 09-0122R--Informational Hearing--The Housing Authority of Baltimore City. This asks the Housing commissioner to tell councilmembers how many vacant units Housing controls, what kind of shape they're in, and whether some might be rehabbed into habitable apartments for the thousands of people who need them.

The read: Councilman Jack Young (D-12th District) expressed the hope that HABC could get some of its vacant housing "back on line." Councilwoman Agnes Welch (D-9th District) thanked him, adding that the informational hearing "might clear up questions we all hear about this."

Resolution 09-0123R--In Support of State Legislation--Senate Bill 202--Financial Crimes--Seizure and Forfeiture of Property. Says "Yay SB 202."

The read: Councilwoman Helen Holton (D-8th District) apologized for pushing state legislation in a city legislature, but asked that the council make an exception in this case because more than $52 billion is stolen each year by identity thieves. The senate bill, she says, "addresses an omission in the existing law that allows thieves to keep their ill-gotten gains."

City council members read a lengthy and sometimes funny ode to departing Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, with each councilmember reading a verse. James Kraft (D-1st District) called Sharfstein "a Clark Kent of the AMA," while Bill Henry (D-4th District) intoned, "Our super-doc, for all his calm, has helped our children to disarm."

Afterward, Sharfstein, who was named deputy Food and Drug Administration commissioner by President Barack Obama on March 14, said, "I view this as a lateral move to a different challenge."

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

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