The Annapolis City Council approved a bill Monday night that will allow city employees to take up to 60 days' unpaid leave to care for children or ill family members.
The bill, sponsored by Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8, was called "compassionate" by its proponents and "bad management" by its opponents. It passed, 7-2, with Aldermen John R. Hammond, R-Ward 1, and Wayne C. Turner, R-Ward 6, opposing.
Moyer said the legislation "puts us into the 21st century and strengthens the family."
But Hammond said the city shouldn't give benefits to employees unless negotiated with the city's four unions.
"This is not a family issue," Hammond said. "This is not a feminist issue. This is a labor-management issue. For us to unilaterally give this away is wrong."
Hammond tried to amend the bill several times but failed. He tried to postpone a vote on the bill. He wanted the legislation to expire after four years. He wanted the council to require employees to take a minimum of 10 days' leave.
The finance committee, which Hammond chairs, added a requirement last week that employees take a minimum of three days off. Department heads had expressed concern that employees would use the bill to take single days off.
Alderman Dean Johnson, I-Ward 2, said employees probably won't abuse the leave plan, citing a recent national survey that less than 2 percent of employees use unpaid family leave. "We're talking, at most, six employees a year," Johnson said. "I think the unions didn't ask for it because they saw little financial benefit."
The legislation will let employees take unpaid leave to care for newborn or newly adopted children, foster children or ill children, spouses, parents or other dependents.
Moyer said Baltimore city, the state, as well as Howard, Prince George's and Baltimore counties already have such policies. Anne Arundel County does not.
In other action Monday night, the City Council: * Conducted a public hearing on changing the name of Spa Creek to "Carroll Creek," its original name.
Hank Schab, leader of a three-year effort to rename the creek, said the council should endorse the change to honor Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence who lived along the creek.
But opponents of the change said it would hurt businesses along the creek, and it would be costly to change maps.
"I think people know where Spa Creek is from Maine to Florida," said boatyard owner Ben Sarles. "If we changed the name, it would take them years to know where Carroll Creek is."
At one point, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins asked proponents of the change if Annapolis should be renamed "Providence," its name during the 17th century.
The council will decide whether to endorse the change Jan. 14. The final say is up to the federal Board of Geographic Names.
* Approved a new three-year contract with city firefighters, who had been without a contract since July.
Firefighters will receive a 3 percent raise, but it is not retroactive to July 1, when three other unions -- representing police officers and clerical and technical workers -- signed new contracts with the city.
All four unions received the same wage package. In addition to the 3 percent increase in July, city employees will get a 2 percent wage increase in January. The last two years of the contract contain no increases; those will be negotiated later, taking into account the city's financial health at the time.
* Set a 10 percent cap on increases in homeowners' property tax assessments, the maximum allowed under state law.
The state legislature adopted a bill this year limiting annual assessment increases to 10 percent. The previous limit had been 15 percent.
Local jurisdictions must adopt 10 percent or lower limits by Dec. 31.