Talks stall between city, lawyers for Wagner's Point residents Solicitor accuses attorneys of breaking promise

October 28, 1998|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

The Schmoke administration broke off negotiations this week with lawyers for Wagner's Point residents over a buyout of the south city neighborhood, prompting the latest in a series of disputes between residents and the city government.

In a letter delivered to residents' lawyers this week, City Solicitor Otho M. Thompson canceled a negotiation session scheduled for today. He accused the two lawyers, Brenda Bratton Blom and Rena Steinzor of the University of Maryland environmental law clinic, of breaking a promise made during an Oct. 20 negotiation to keep discussions with his staff private.

Thompson said in an interview that he was not trying to end negotiations over a buyout. But he will not talk to their lawyers, whom he considers untrustworthy.

"I'm happy to talk to the residents," said Thompson. "My beef isn't with them. My beef is with the lawyers."

Steinzor and Wagner's Point neighborhood leader Rose Hindla said they took Thompson's letter as a sign that the city was breaking off negotiations entirely.

The Schmoke administration has introduced a bill in City Council that would allow the city to take homes in the cancer-ridden, heavily industrial Wagner's Point by eminent domain. Residents want a negotiated settlement that would include money from the city, state and federal governments, as well as the petrochemical industry.

An earlier try at negotiations broke off late this summer, with residents and the city blaming each other.

"I think the city is looking for any excuse it can to say negotiations have stopped, and they'll take us by eminent domain," says Hindla. "And the solicitor should know I'm not going to any meeting without lawyers."

The dispute stems from a letter that Blom and Steinzor sent to Thompson last week, summarizing their view of discussions between city and residents' lawyers. Thompson was angry that copies of the letter were sent to several public officials, including seven City Council members, three local state legislators and two members of the Glendening administration.

Steinzor said she never agreed to show the letter to Thompson first. "This break off is highly unfortunate," she said. "We hope PTC it's temporary. We were very surprised by the letter. We thought this was an open process."

Pub Date: 10/28/98

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