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

Summer Patton
An unidentified canine enjoys the fountain pool at Mount Vernon Place Park.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 4/29/2009

On the agenda for April 20

Bill 09-0322--Leash Law--Environmental and Civil Citations. Would roll back the $1,000 fine for appearing in public with your dog off its leash.

The Read: "Sometimes we have unintended consequences of laws enacted in good faith," James Kraft (D-1st District) says. The $1,000 fine for an unleashed dog was an accident, he explains. It was supposed to apply to people who were cruel to their animals, but the section of the law that the new fine amended contained references to numerous other provisions, including off-leash dogs. "As soon as we found out this happened, we wrote this bill," Kraft says

Bill 09-0319--Impound Towing--Fees. Would freeze the maximum fees for impound towing (unpaid tickets, etc.) and related charges at the 2009 level.

Bill 09-0320--Trespass Towing--Fees. Would cap the fee for trespass towing from a private lot at $250, and hammer violators with a $1,000 fine.

Resolution 09-0127R--Informational Hearing%u2013Department of Transportation--Increase in Towing Fees. This bill asks city Transportation Director Al Foxx to explain his rationale for the recent increase in towing fees (to up to $140 per tow, plus storage fees) allowed to "medallion" towing companies, which are licensed by the city police to tow cars from accident scenes, drug raids, and city streets.

The Read: Councilman Robert Curran (D-3rd District) has been on a tear about city towing. Last August, he introduced a bill aimed at "predatory towers" who swoop in and grab cars from accident scenes before the medallion tow truck can arrive, then allegedly gouge insurance companies for the service. Coincidentally, a top city transportation official resigned soon after, in the wake of The Sun's stories detailing his acquisition of a motorboat from an auction of impounded vehicles. The boat had been purchased by Frankford Towing--a big medallion tow company--for $1,900, even as it was lobbying the official for higher towing fees. Embarrassing facts leaked from a city Inspector General's investigation into the matter (Foxx and his son both also attended auctions despite a rule barring them), giving the impression that folks with specialized, inside knowledge were spilling a few beans, perhaps to send a message. The issue seems to hinge on the rights, powers, and fee-charging abilities of the medallion companies, who have the city contract to impound vehicles on behalf of the police, versus the others, who operate on behalf of private lot owners and tow "trespassers" whose vehicles overstay their welcome. "It seems like we have very little control over these trespass towers," Curran says. "I'm not trying to infringe on the private property rights of people, but some of the [parking] lot owners say they only make enough from parking fees to keep the lot clean. So they're making their money from towing. . . . It just seems to be a racket." Sitting in the audience was Charles Parrish, the general manager of Greenwood Towing, a big company that has no medallion. As Curran spoke of some of his bills' provisions, Parrish parried. "Illegal towers are illegal towers," Parrish said. "They should get what they deserve, but don't ban us all as one."

Bill 09-0321--People's Counsel. Would establish an Office of People's Counsel who would participate in certain land-use proceedings.

The Read: Councilman Kraft introduced this as a way to professionalize the opposition in complex matters like planning and zoning. Instead of just citizens making the case against a new tall building or planned unit development, an attorney would step in and make the case. "The People's Counsel would have the ability to actually participate on behalf of the people of Baltimore," Kraft says. With this would come "balanced records on which sound decisions can be made." Given that the city's lawyers have misread (or at least disagreed about) the plain meaning of lots of zoning and other laws, the bill makes sense. But Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young (D-12th District) wants to put the brakes on this. He asked that his proposal to hire an attorney for the City Council be given priority instead.

Resolution 09-0126R--The Equal Rights for Bikes Task Force. Would establish a task force to work within the Bicycle Master Plan to promote bicycle safety by clarifying the rules of the road, creating a system to monitor bicycle accidents, and recommending bike-safety initiatives.

The Read: "Baltimore drivers are not always ready to share the road," says Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District). And bike riders aren't always up on the rules either. Hence the task force whose members will include--but not be limited to--City Council members, city Department of Transportation and Planning honchos, and the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee ("Pedal Power," Feature, April 22).

Resolution 09-0128R--Request for Budget Action--Recreation and Parks--Restoration of Funding for Recreation Centers. Asks Mayor Sheila Dixon to reconsider spending cuts to child care, Police Athletic League (PAL) recreation centers, and pools.

The Read: Mayor Dixon's budget proposal includes a provision to shift 24 police officers assigned to PAL Centers to other police duties, including patrol. Councilman Nicholas D'Adamo (D-2nd District) suggested that would endanger the kids in the rec centers, adding that "most of these (PAL) officers are older officers who probably are not able to be back out on the street." Councilwoman Clarke decried the proposed closing of two child care centers in the 14th district, and Councilwoman Agnes Welch (D-9th District) spoke up for programs in the Rosemont community.

"For children from below Fayette Street, to go above Fayette is the same as kids from South Korea going to North Korea. They take their lives in their hands." --Councilman James Kraft (1st District), on why it would be a bad idea to close a new swimming pool that primarily serves the kids in the Perkins Homes.

Next City Council meeting is scheduled for April 27 at 5 p.m.

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