Aldermen reversed field on measure Sponsors quit effort to ban their prying into city affairs

February 09, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

It was the good government bill that was -- and then it wasn't.

It began with complaints from citizens and city department heads about Annapolis city council members meddling and throwing their weight around. By September, five aldermen rushed in with a proposed charter amendment banning such interference in the orderly workings of government.

But when it came time to vote that legislation into law last month, the bill's supporters inexplicably faded. Of nine aldermen, only three -- and none of the five sponsors -- voted for the measure. The end.

"I was very disappointed to see that they didn't enact the noninterference bill," said H. Richard Duden, chairman of a citizens' commission on improving city government. "It's basically a bill for good government."

A 20-page report from the Duden commission recommended the bill, based upon "complaints that aldermen, as individuals and -- collectively, often attempt to micromanage the activities of various city departments."

The bill's co-sponsors say they pulled their support at the crucial moment because it was poorly written.

"No one could agree on what noninterference meant," said one )) of them, Alderman M. Theresa DeGraff, Republican. "We also thought the idea that council members could punish their colleagues by removing them was absurd. Only voters should be allowed to do that.

"We signed on to the idea, not the way it was drafted," DeGraff said.

But paperwork from the city law office tells a different story.

Routinely, when aldermen propose legislation, the law staff drafts it, then submits it for review. If sponsors don't like something, they suggest changes or take their names off the bill. Legislation goes before the nine-member council only after sponsors approve it.

Republican Alderman Wayne C. Turner requested an amendment to the city charter Sept. 12 that would ban aldermanic interference.

The draft that resulted would have required aldermen to deal with the executive branch and department heads solely through the mayor, unless they had a question.

It prohibited aldermen from giving "any order either publicly or privately to any department director or subordinate of the mayor." Finally, it provided that any alderman who violated those rules could be expelled from the council.

Turner approved the draft Sept. 13, and five days later Democratic Aldermen Shepard Tullier and Carl O. Snowden signed on as co-sponsors. No one asked for changes.

On Sept. 23, city attorney Paul G. Goetzke sent the draft to the full council, noting that anyone could sign on as a co-sponsor and "call with their comments, revisions and questions."

The next day, DeGraff went to the law office to sign the unaltered draft. She added a written request to be co-sponsor. Two days later, Democratic Alderman Samuel Gilmer called in his request to be a co-sponsor.

On Oct. 4, the law office sent out another memo informing the council that final drafts of all legislation had been forwarded to it. "If any alderman would like to be added or dropped as a co-sponsor to any item," the memo said, he or she should call.

No such requests were made. On Jan. 13, the bill was soundly voted down by the co-sponsors and Democratic Alderman Ellen O. Moyer.

"The noninterference bill was a no-brainer," said Alderman Louise Hammond, a Democrat who voted for it. "All the studies and public criticism we heard said their biggest gripe dealt with aldermen who interfere too much."

But Snowden said the council's critics have never given specific examples of interference. He also rejected the idea that calls to a department head on behalf of a constituent were meddling.

Pub Date: 2/09/97

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.