School TV dispute heats up Council ready to subpoena board members

November 13, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer Staff writer Michael Fletcher contributed to this article.

The Baltimore City Council is threatening to subpoena school board members who apparently are refusing to appear before a council committee to answer questions about the controversial Channel One television newscasts in schools.

The latest development on the Channel One issue signaled what could be the start of an open feud between the city administration and a council whose members feel increasingly impotent in their governmental role.

Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, chairman of the Education and Human Resources Committee, is pressing for the subpoenas, backed by virtually all the other council members. Mr. Stokes said school board President Phillip H. Farfel has refused to attend future committee hearings because he views them as council meddling in school policy -- a view supported by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"We're an oversight body and for them to say we have no business having hearings on matters of educational policy is a direct affront to the constituents we were elected to represent," Mr. Stokes said.

At a hearing on Channel One yesterday, Mr. Stokes said he planned to schedule a third hearing on the city's contract to use Channel One in the next two weeks -- and then issue summons requiring school board members to attend. Once the date and time are set, Mr. Stokes said, he will ask a city Circuit Court judge to issue subpoenas and expects the city sheriff's office to deliver them.

The city charter allows for the council to summon witnesses and require that those witnesses produce documents requested by the council. The charter also states that the members of city boards "shall appear before the City Council, if requested by a majority vote of its members."

On Monday, the council unanimously approved a resolution to summon witnesses and require production of documents and records from the city Department of Education, as part of the council's "investigation" into the Channel One issue.

Dr. Gary Thrift, an assistant superintendent representing Superintendent Walter G. Amprey, attended the education committee's hearing yesterday, but was unable to answer several questions about how the Channel One contract came to be.

Mr. Schmoke said the council's constant use of "informational" hearings is a way for it to try to meddle with school policy. Just this week, he pointed out, the council had hearings on Channel One and the school- privatization project.

"I have no problem with Dr. Thrift explaining to the council why Channel One is useful," said Mr. Schmoke. "But the City Council and school administration agreed on a procedure for communication. They have an opportunity to talk during the quarterly budget hearings. All that I ask is that both sides abide by that understanding.

"It seems to me that these hearings are in addition to what they agreed to. This causes the problem of administrators having to divert attention from their everyday duties."

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