Westminster mayor holds private meeting on crime, drug issue Council, public and press are banned from talk

February 16, 1993|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff Writer

Mayor W. Benjamin Brown barred the City Council, the public and the press from a meeting with selected citizens last night to discuss crime and drug-trafficking in the city in the wake of Westminster's first murder in 1993.

Two people who attended the meeting said afterward that the mayor promised additional street lighting in dark areas, removal of a telephone booth where people sometimes congregate near an apartment complex on South Center Street, revival of neighborhood watch programs and a community meeting.

The council had approved increased street light illumination in some sections of the city at its Feb. 8 meeting.

"This [meeting] is just our springboard," said the Rev. James E. Hinton, pastor of Union Memorial Baptist Church on South Center Street. "We're going to invite the people of the community, and the mayor's going to be with us."

Longtime South Center Street resident R. Frye Diggs emerged from the session optimistic.

"I think we accomplished a lot, and from the mayor's standpoint, I think he's going to do something," Mr. Diggs said, citing the street lighting and planned meeting of concerned citizens.

Mr. Diggs said he was very upset by the recent homicide in his neighborhood.

"When you see it on TV and read about it, that's one thing, but when you see it happen [in your neighborhood], that's very disturbing," he said.

Mr. Diggs referred to the death of a 22-year-old Westminster man, Gregory L. Howard, who was killed by a shotgun blast on South Center Street Jan. 28 in what police described as a drug-related shooting.

The mayor's individual action divided council members. One said he felt the council should have been involved, one said the private meeting was fine with him and two straddled the question.

Mr. Brown said he barred the council and news media because, nTC "I would simply like to hear some input from [those invited] privately before there is any public discussion."

The mayor said he feared citizens would not be as comfortable speaking out about their concerns in a public meeting as they would in a private session.

He described those he invited as "people I have known," and said the group included, but was not limited to, residents of South Center and Charles Streets, the area where the shooting occurred.

Council President William F. Haifley strongly criticized the private session. "It sounds like an emperor type of thing to me," Mr. Haifley said.

He said he "would certainly think the council should be kept informed of what's going on in the city of Westminster."

Councilman Edward S. Calwell said he had no problem being excluded from the discussion. "I think this is probably the right way to go at this point in time," he said.

He added that he hopes the council will be involved later when the mayor has a plan of action.

Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein said she didn't mind being excluded from last night's meeting. "It's OK if he [Mayor Brown] pre-digests it and brings it to me, or I can roll up my sleeves and work with anybody," she said.

But she noted that after the shooting, the city's first of 1993, "I called the mayor and asked to be part of any effort from City Hall."

Mr. Yowan said that if the meeting's purpose was simply to listen to citizens, he didn't mind being excluded. But, he said, "It might have been better to inform the council about the meeting and perhaps give people a chance to attend if they wanted to."

Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Brown said he would not discuss what happened in the meeting until he is ready to issue a public statement, possibly later this week.

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