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

By Van Smith | Posted 10/14/2009

After prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, roll call, and a presentation by firefighter/paramedic Michael Hineline of the Baltimore City Fire Department's special-events team, the Baltimore City Council got down to business on Oct. 5.

The first new bill introduced is something Hineline's likely to like: an increase in fire and police employees' retirement benefits for the heroes in their midst--those who retire on a 100 percent line-of-duty disability. Bill 09-0403 would, upon retirement, award a lump-sum refund of an entitled employee's accumulated contributions to the Fire and Police Employees' Retirement System, plus a pension equal to his or her compensation at the time of retirement. While the city is struggling to cope with the rising costs of retirement benefits (see this week's feature, by Edward Ericson Jr.), it is still hoping to give more to those who gave their all.

Bills 09-0404 and 09-0405 would permit the sale of city-owned properties: former buildings known as Bentalou Court and Mosher Court apartments, and the still-standing Baltimore Schoolhouse apartments.

Formerly run-down and beset with a variety of ills, the city had acquired Bentalou Court and Mosher Court with the intention of demolishing them to create new development opportunities--which is exactly what 09-0404 hopes to accomplish. The historic Baltimore Schoolhouse apartments, to be sold under Bill 09-0405, are slated for renovation by the Historic East Baltimore Action Coalition.

Bill 09-0406, Limited-Service Pregnancy Centers--Disclaimers, is the city's version of a state-wide bill that failed in the 2008 General Assembly session. The intent is to combat the tendency of some such centers--also known as crisis-pregnancy centers--to provide anti-abortion and anti-birth-control messages to women who seek their assistance by requiring them to clearly disclose the limited scope of their services to potential patients. If the bill passes, any such center in Baltimore City would have to "provide its clients and potential clients with a disclaimer substantially to the effect that the center does not provide or make referral for abortion or birth-control services," the bill states. Failure to provide the disclaimer in an easily understandable and prominent fashion would result in a $500-per-day fine.

Also of note from the evening's business are the nominations of several prominent Baltimoreans to the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, better known simply as CHAP. Among them: Charles Theatre owner and developer James "Buzz" Cusack; Abell Foundation President Robert Embry Jr.; realtor extraordinaire Eva Higgins, of Hill and Company, a well-known presence in Mount Vernon real-estate circles; and University of Maryland law professor; Shapiro, Sher, Guinot, and Sandler attorney; veteran political advisor; and commission newcomer Larry Gibson.

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

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