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

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 11/11/2009

On the Agenda, Nov. 2

09-0417 Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners--School System Revenue Bonds--Approval. Allows the city to borrow $94 million for school construction.

The Read: This bill was introduced and passed within three minutes, skipping the usual hearing process and engendering no public comment or debate by council members. It allows the city's school system to borrow $94,396,000 in the bond market by Dec. 31 by floating two different groups of bonds. One group is called "refunding bonds," and will be used to pay back older bond holders and refinance existing debt. The other group is called "Tax-Credit Bonds," and is part of the stimulus package passed by congress this year. These tax-credit bonds are worth about $58 million, according to an IRS bulletin. The tax credit will go to the buyers of the bonds, which will lower the city's effective interest rate on the borrowed funds. The money will be used for renovations in almost every city school, including maintenance projects that have been delayed for years.

09-0418 Vehicle Forfeiture Sales. Would allow city officials to grab forfeited or abandoned cars and trucks for use by city employees.

The Read: Baltimore seizes vehicles from drug dealers and other criminals and tows others as "abandoned property." Most of these vehicles (scooters excepted) are auctioned off. This bill sets up a process whereby the head of the city's Department of General Services will be allowed to pluck vehicles of interest from the city's vehicle auction and repurpose them for official city use. "It's important to think out of the box and try to create efficiencies in this economy," City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said when introducing the bill. "This bill could ultimately save city funds and upgrade our fleet." Some people, of course, may recall that this kind of thing has been done occasionally, if unofficially, in the past by city officials upgrading their own personal fleets. In 2008, Deputy Transportation Director Anthony Wallnofer resigned after The Sun wrote about a small boat he had bought from a city-towing company that had picked it up at a city auction. Wallnofer had overseen the city-vehicle auctions until then and wrote the conflict of interest policy he was accused of breaking.

09-0169R Request for State Legislation--Operation of Bottle Clubs and the Transfer of Bottle Club Registrations. Asks for a state law restricting bottle clubs.

09-0170R Request for State Legislation--Transfer of Liquor Licenses. Asks for a state law broadening the criteria under which a liquor license transfer can be denied.

The Read: Both resolutions, introduced by Councilman Bill Henry (D-4th District), relate to the perennial conflict between liquor establishments and neighborhoods. "The majority [of licensees] aren't a problem," Henry says. "But sometimes, we've just got a bad place. People are used to hanging out there, doing not-so-good things." The bottle-club resolution asks for stricter controls on places that do not sell alcohol, per se, but serve booze that citizens pay to store and consume on premises. "One of the current threats to communities is that if the Board of Liquor License Commissioners revokes or denies the renewal of a liquor license because a licensee has demonstrated that he or she is incapable of or unwilling to manage the establishment in a manner that is respectful of the community . . . that individual is allowed to register for a bottle club," the resolution says.

The liquor-license-transfer resolution asks that the liquor board be allowed to consider the character of the existing bar when deciding whether to allow the license to transfer to a new owner. Under current law, the only thing the board can consider is the character of the applicant for the license, not the history of the place in question. As the resolution states, "Since so many of the situations in which a community is unhappy with a licensee involve chronic neighborhood disruptions already in existence, and since this information cannot be considered when deciding whether or not to allow the transfer of a license, many chronically bad businesses remain so over the years."

Several other council members eagerly signed on to Henry's resolution. "Sometimes, you meet a new applicant and you can just tell they aren't going to run the place as a good neighbor," Henry says. "We will probably add to these a third [bill] speaking to one-day liquor licenses."

The Next city Council Meeting is scheduled for Nov. 16

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