Council president adds 'chairman' to his duties Upgrade: Lawrence Bell is in the hot seat for ordering new seats for Baltimore lawmakers that City Hall's curator says obscure and clash with the antique desks.

October 22, 1998|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Lawmakers in most places fight over where they stand. But at Baltimore City Hall, the squabbling is over what City Council members sit on.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, on a campaign to upgrade furniture and technology at City Hall, ordered $10,800 worth of high-back leather chairs with cherry-colored wooden armrests for the 19 members' desks in the council chamber.

The chairs arrived Friday in time for Monday's council meeting.

But City Hall Curator Jeanne March Davis said they've got to go -- the backs are so high that they block the public's view of the council members' antique, leather-topped desks; and the cherry-colored armrests clash with the desks' brown finish.

In other words, the chairs look like contemporary office furniture, which is not suitable for the 120-year-old chamber, Davis said.

"I want to ensure that the room, probably one of the most historical rooms in the city, is preserved," Davis said. "The fat jTC lady hasn't sung yet."

Davis, who is on the mayor's staff and advises city officials on City Hall decor, said the council purchased the chairs despite her objections, and she wants them replaced.

Bell, with a sporting grin that suggested he is up to Davis' challenge, said the curator didn't realize the chairs she recommended weren't available when he wanted them. Moreover, he said, the alternative immediately available was a meshed leather chair with a low back that would have been more of a clash.

"She would have had a heart attack," Bell said.

The council purchased the new chairs because members said the old ones were an embarrassment to the city, particularly when Vice President Al Gore visited the council and dignitaries from foreign countries sat in those chairs.

Bell said the old chairs, which the city bought in the mid-1970s, evoked the hippie era, with their tan vinyl covers and low backs: "You can see people with long hair sitting here."

The aging chairs are torn along the seams, and stuffing oozes from rips and tears. Council members pick at the stuffing, which often clings to their clothes.

"By the end of a meeting, there would be speckles everywhere," said Councilwoman Helen Holton, a supporter of the new chairs. "I would think comfort would be the most important thing."

During the council meeting Monday, Bell polled members to see who liked the chairs and then urged them to call Davis and tell her, so they can keep them.

"I do like [Davis]," Bell said. "I just think that she sometimes goes to the extreme."

Davis said she is just doing her job, trying to preserve the sanctity of one of the city's most enduring treasures. She said she isn't daunted by the opposition.

"My greatest interest lies in everybody being happy," Davis said. "This is not resolved. I'm very serious about seeing that what is in there is appropriate."

Pub Date: 10/22/98

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