The City Council last night adopted a new rule for filling councilmanic vacancies in a way said to dispel a perception that such decisions are made in smoke-filled rooms.
By a unanimous vote, the council approved a rule change that requires the remaining council members of a district where a vacancy occurs to hold a public hearing within 30 days to interview and receive the resumes of applicants.
Under the rule, within 30 days of the hearing, a candidate must be recommended to the full council for a vote.
The remaining members of the district delegation can conduct further interviews in private before making their recommendations.
The new rule also formalizes the unwritten, decades-old practice of councilmanic courtesy, by which a district's remaining council members are the only ones who make the recommendation for a replacement.
The city is divided into six three-member council districts.
The new rule came out of a compromise reached between City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, and Councilman Martin E. "Mike" Curran, D-3rd.
Clarke proposed the rule change last week. DiBlasi countered with one similar to Clarke's but added language ensuring the private interviews. Curran proposed a third rule change formalizing councilmanic courtesy.
"We were able to resolve our differences and at the same time come up with a solid process that allows public participation and still leaves the business of filling vacancies in the district," said DiBlasi.
The past practice came under increasing criticism by some black council members. They complained that, in districts where the black population was approaching 40 percent or more but the three representatives were white, blacks were not seriously considered for vacancies.
After the meeting, the council recessed for the holiday season until Jan. 22. But, before doing so, the council:
* Gave final approval to a bill favored by the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the majority of the council that caps property tax assessment increases at 4 percent.
For example, if the assessed value of a property increases by 6 percent, the city can apply its property tax rate of $5.95 for every $100 of assessed value to only the first 4 percent.
The cap, which applies only to owner-occupied residential properties, had been 15 percent but a change in state law required a subdivision to set its own cap provided it did not exceed 10 percent.
* Gave final approval to a bill that authorizes the city to sell 30 acres of the former Baltimore Colt training facility in Owings Mills.
The city purchased the 100-acre site for $4.5 million from Colt owner Robert Irsay after he transferred the team from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984.
A private firm is considering purchasing 30 acres of the site for about $4.7 million.
The city will keep the two-story brick training building, three practice fields and a parking lot in the event Baltimore is awarded a new National Football League franchise.