Black council members meet privately amid controversy Their exclusion of white colleagues has opened a rift

January 27, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Black members of the Baltimore City Council met secretly yesterday at a suburban hotel despite public outrage that their white colleagues were barred from attending the event.

At least five of the 10 black council members and a handful of city officials, including Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, attended the event at the Timonium Holiday Inn.

The Hyatt Regency hotel downtown abruptly backed out as host Thursday. Holiday Inn officials said the council's

African-American Coalition, which includes all 10 black members, told the hotel staff not to make it public that the group was there.

A reporter who showed up unannounced was denied entrance to the meeting, which began in the afternoon and was expected to end today.

"We will issue a press release when this is over," said the coalition leader, 6th District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes. None of the coalition members would comment further publicly.

Council members Paula Johnson Branch of the 2nd District, Sheila Dixon of the 4th District, Agnes Welch of the 4th District and Norman A. Handy of the 6th District also attended.

Controversy surrounding the coalition's meeting swelled this week when white council members complained publicly that excluding them from the meeting was racist and divisive and sent the wrong message to citizens.

ZTC Council members received dozens of calls criticizing the event, and callers to the Hyatt Regency threatened to picket the hotel.

Anthony J. Ambridge, a white 2nd District councilman, threatened this week to alert the state's attorney if the coalition members met, because, according to public meeting laws, a majority of the council is not permitted to hold a closed meeting and discuss business. The 10 black council members constitute a majority of the 19-member council.

Black council members have denied being racist and have maintained that they never intended to talk about council business at the meeting. They said they planned to discuss ways to strengthen the city's struggling black community.

It was not known yesterday whether all 10 coalition members would show up at the same time.

The coalition was formed in 1988 as a black group in a largely white council.

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