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

By Andrea Appleton and Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 2/3/2010

Bill 10-0445 Public Ethics Law--Ethics Board Composition, Tenure, etc.--Ethics Training

Would reconfigure the city's Board of Ethics by adding new training and membership requirements, staggering terms, and requiring an annual-activities report.

The Read: City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) sponsored this bill, which would apply directly to her when she becomes mayor. Under the new rules, the council president and comptroller would each nominate an ethics-board member, and the mayor would choose three others. Their five-year terms would be staggered. (Currently, the mayor essentially chooses four members, and the city solicitor--a mayoral appointee--chooses one. A new mayor can pretty much revamp the entire board.) The bill also requires the board to file an annual report, and broadens ethics-training requirements.

Bill 10-0446 Public Ethics Law--Clarifications and Expanded Coverage

Would more clearly define the situations in which city officials must abstain from participating in official business, as well as under what circumstances they can accept gifts.

The Read: "I believe that it is very difficult to legislate personal behavior, and even more difficult to legislate ethics," said William Cole (D-11th District), by way of introducing a bill that attempts to do just that. The bill would--among other things--prohibit public servants from accepting gifts from a lobbyist whose purview is within their jurisdiction. (The day after the bill was introduced, the ethics board changed its rules regarding gifts: City officials now have to request permission of the board 30 days in advance of a fundraising campaign, and must provide details of the gifts they receive.)

10-0444 Charter Amendment--Board of Estimates--Composition.

Would allow a city-wide vote to amend the charter so that the city's spending board would be composed of the mayor, City Council president, and the comptroller only, not those three plus the mayorally-appointed Public Works director and city solicitor.

The Read: Councilwoman Belinda Conaway (D-7th District) introduced the measure to decrease the mayor's sway over the city's spending board. "I believe that we only need . . . the three people that the voters put their trust in," Conaway said. This is not a controversial notion, as councilmembers have for years griped about the "imbalance of power" between the mayor and the council. Still, the timing was awkward for Council President Rawlings-Blake, who is set to become mayor and introduced a much less sweeping reform of the city's Board of Ethics. Conaway's bill got just seven sponsors--Conaway, Bill Henry (D-4th District), Bernard C. "Jack" Young (12th District), Nicholas D'Adamo (2nd District), James Kraft (D-1st District), Helen Holton (D-8th District), and Sharon Green Middleton (D-6th District). Conaway says she is untroubled: "Just because they didn't sign on doesn't mean that they'll vote against it," she says.

On City Paper's 2007 election questionnaire, four current council members--Cole, Edward Reisinger (D-10th District), Rochelle "Rikki" Spector (D-5th District), and Robert Curran (D-3rd District)--all endorsed the concept of a charter change to reduce the Board of Estimates to its three elected members, yet none of them signed on to Conaway's bill. (D'Adamo did not endorse the change two years ago, but is co-sponsoring Conaway's bill). Curran says he opposes the bill at this time because, if passed, it would require a change in the board during this mayoral term. "I'm not willing to change before the next term of the next mayor," he says. Reisinger says he's "leaning toward it," but will not sponsor it before it receives a hearing, where he can hear arguments against it. "I'm just trying to be objective," he says. "I'm not dancing around it. I sound like I'm dancing. I'm like 99.9-tenths percent." (Cole did not return a call; Spector did, but we didn't connect before press time.)

10-0186R Investigative Hearing--The Status of the 311 Non-Emergency and 911 Emergency Response Systems.

Asks Police Commissioner Frederick Bealefeld and Fire Chief James Clack, among other officials, to explain the rationale for a proposed merger of the 911 and 311 dispatch systems.

The Read: Dispatchers for the city's 911 system work separately from the non-emergency 311 system, which was implemented in 1996 to help people get help with potholes, building violations, and other less urgent problems. Originally intended to take pressure off overworked 911 operators, the 311 system did not do so as well as hoped. A 2005 Department of Justice study suggests a consolidated, dual-dispatch system, but the union representing the 911 dispatchers has concerns, as the 311 employees are non-union. Councilman Bernard C. "Jack" Young (D-12th District) introduced the bill, but asked that it be routed not to his Public Safety and Health Committee, as first planned, but instead to the Judiciary and Legislative Investigation's Committee, chaired by James Kraft (D-1st District), "because I do have a relative who works for 311."

10-0440 Sale of Property--Baltimore County Map 100, Parcel 136; 10-0441 Sale of Property--Block 7774A, Lot 009A.

Both would sell land "no longer needed for public use."

The Read: The first parcel is an undeveloped 11-acre plot at the end of Maple Road in Catonsville, about a half mile south of Frederick Road. Assessed at $110,200, there appears to be at least one stream running through the property. It is not clear from records when the city acquired it or why. The second parcel is about 3.25 acres, valued at about $211,000 for assessment purposes. From the description on the tax card, the plot appears to back up to the Bond Distributing warehouse on Bernard Drive, just north of where I-95 cuts through Morrell Park.

10-0442 Urban Renewal Plan--Upton-- Amendment; 10-0443 Urban Renewal--Penn North Transit Station--Amendment.

Both of these amendments would allow street vending by store owners.

The Read: Pennsylvania Avenue merchants "want to use tables to attract customers during business hours," says Councilman William Cole, who introduced the measure. He says the residents on neighboring streets are OK with that. The bills specify that merchants would have to get permission from the city (called a "minor privilege") and leave at least a 6-foot width of sidewalk for pedestrians.

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

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