O'Malley leads charge to destroy illegal phone

Councilman answers call at Fayette and Monroe

May 21, 1999|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

The last call was for a guy named "Boo."

Then a power saw and a crowbar brought down the last of six illegal pay phones at the infamous corner of Fayette and Monroe streets -- a notorious drug corner in West Baltimore.

City Councilman Martin O'Malley -- stirred by reports of hundreds of illegal pay phones in Baltimore that are used as vehicles for prostitution and illicit drug sales -- prodded officials of the city Department of Public Works during a hearing yesterday to leave the council chamber and cut the phone down.

"Clearly, this is a problem with the use of pay phones by drug organizations," said O'Malley, chairman of the Legislative Investigations Committee. The hearing followed an editorial in The Sun identifying the phones as part of the city's drug problem.

More than 500 pay phones in the city operate with legal permits. City officials estimate that as many as 1,000 other pay phones have been installed illegally.

Telephone companies are required by law to obtain a permit to install pay phones, which are often placed outside businesses. They also must receive permission from the Public Service Commission.

Ron Gerstley, president of Maryland Public Payphones, said the permit process sometimes can take months. The delays can hurt the phone companies' profits, Gerstley said at the hearing.

Gerstley said he does not support installing pay phones illegally, but he believes the city and the businesses should work together to find a way to make the permit process more friendly to businesses.

The council is working on legislation that would penalize businesses that install pay phones without permits. The penalties may include a $500 fine and the publication of the business' name in local media.

O'Malley said he wants to work with companies so that phones operate legally, but he said the illegal ones have to go -- just like the one at Monroe and Fayette.

The councilman picked up the receiver when the phone rang. The caller asked for a man named "Boo." O'Malley told the caller that only the police, the city council and public works department were there.

Then he said he was glad to see the phone go. "This is a major accomplishment," he said.

Pub Date: 5/21/99

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