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

Councilman Ed Reisinger (D-10th District); Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (D-7th District)

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 9/30/2009

The Next City Council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 19 at 5 p.m.

On the Agenda for Sept. 21

Bill 09-0398 Rezoning--2112-2136 W. North Ave. Would change the zoning designation from B-2-3 to B-3.

The Read: Legendary heroin dealer and occasional actor "Little" Melvin Williams founded a nonprofit called Correct Choices in 2006, placing on the board (without his knowledge), Ed Burns, the former Baltimore police officer who collared Williams in 1984 ("Redemption Song and Dance," Mobtown Beat, March 19, 2008). Correct Choices' corporate charter lapsed last year, but Williams' dream of establishing some kind of (legitimate) business in his West North Avenue complex of warehouses has not died. Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (D-7th District) filed a bill in August to grant Williams a "conditional use" permit for a concert hall on the property, a designation that appears unpermittable under current zoning law. On Sept. 21, she introduced a new bill to change the zoning of the property to B-3, which would allow "live entertainment." Conaway told City Paper last month that she had never heard of Williams--or his illegal exploits (which have been chronicled in The Sun and other news outlets, a BET documentary, and a Barry Levinson movie depiction)--before introducing the August bill in the council (Councilmania, Aug. 10).

Conaway introduced two other ordinances and two resolutions at the meeting, accounting for five of the 10 items of new business. Her Bill 09-0401 City Officers and Employees--Overtime Compensation, would impose overtime limits on some city employees of 50 percent of their base pay unless they get special permission from the Board of Estimates; companion bill 09-0402 would establish an Office of Overtime Reporting to keep track of city overtime.

On the resolutions front, Conaway introduced 09-0150R Police Actions--Treatment of Dogs, which asks Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld to tell the council what happens to dogs residing at a house when cops are called to the address, whether it be a call for assistance, an arrest warrant, or a drug raid. Conaway was also the lead sponsor of the council's near-annual resolution asking the General Assembly to legislate an elimination of disparities in auto-insurance premiums. This year's resolution, 09-0151R, is nearly identical to one passed last year (08-088R) and a kissing cousin of two others passed in 2005 (05-0067R and 05-0009R).

Bill 09-0400 Zoning--Conditional Use Incinerator--Amending Conditional Use Would "repeal certain geographic restrictions on the use of" a medical waste incinerator in Curtis Bay.

The Read: Backed by Curtis Bay residents and environmental activists, Council Vice President Edward Reisinger (D-10th District) tried in 2005 to reduce the amount of medical waste incinerated on Hawkins Point Road, but failed. The problem: burning medical waste produces (or produced) a lot of pollution--including about five percent of all the methyl mercury blooming out of state smokestacks and into the Chesapeake Bay, according to news reports at the time. Reisinger's new bill could actually increase the amount of medical waste coming into Baltimore, because it repeals the 250-mile radius limit from which the existing incinerator could get bloody bandages and old blood-pressure testers to burn. Curtis Bay Energy, which took over the plant several years ago, bills itself as a green company.

Steve Groenke, a spokesman for Curtis Bay Energy, says the company will need more fuel in the future because its recycling program--which trains hospital workers to separate waste into the burnable stuff for the incinerator and the sometimes mercury-laden stuff that must be sent elsewhere--has reduced its waste stream. The company is planning to build an industrial-laundry facility powered by the steam generated in the incinerator, he says, "so we need enough power at the incinerator." The existing 250-mile limit, he says, is "unconstitutional." He claims the project has the endorsement of the community.

But an environmental-health expert says she is saddened by the bill. "They're dinosaurs. They're not necessary," Brenda Afzal, Director of Health Programs at the Environmental Health Education Center at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, says of medical-waste incinerators generally. "It incenses me that they're going to do this to Baltimore. And the community is going to bear the brunt of it.

"I don't think there's any question that they've made an improvement on the amount of waste that was put out by the previous owner," she says of Curtis Bay Energy. "But it's not enough. It's like the old saw about making a silk purse out of a sow's ear."

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