City council poised to vote on bill aimed at hushing noisy revelers

Plan would raise fine from $50 to up to $1,000

September 13, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

The Annapolis city council, in its first meeting after a month off, plans to vote tonight on a bill to tighten public disturbance laws that downtown residents hope will stop the noisy drunken revelry that often wakes them up when bars close at 2 a.m.

The "Public Peace, Morals and Welfare" bill, which Mayor Dean L. Johnson and Ward 1 Alderman Louise Hammond introduced, will subject rowdy violators to misdemeanor charges, a fine of up to $1,000 and not more than 90 days in prison if convicted. The punishment under current law is a $50 fine.

"Citizens obviously want a reduction in noise, especially in the downtown area and in Eastport," said Johnson, a Republican, who added that he has received many calls from residents eager to see the bill pass. "We've got too much of it. Just this weekend, we had to close four parties in my neighborhood because it was too noisy."

Johnson and Hammond initially wrote the bill to give police power to arrest those "yelling, hooting and hollering" if it unreasonably disturbed peace but the city council Public Safety Committee struck those specifics after studying the proposed ordinance.

Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, who is on the committee, said she felt omitting the "shopping list" of noises gives police officers more power to stop noisemakers.

"If you put a list in, it's confining," said Moyer, a Democrat who represents Ward 8 -- which includes Eastport. "Many attorneys will tell you, if you have a list, once you have something outside the list, does that count? We've made it a bit more sensible."

Hammond, a Democrat who represents downtown, said she is studying the bill to see whether the changes make it as effective as she had planned before voting on it.

"It would be nice if we had some additional tools to work with," she said. "At this point, I don't know what we're getting that's additional."

The city council will not be voting on two other bills that residents have closely watched.

The council is holding off the vote on Johnson's bill to gradually increase water and sewer rates Jan. 1 so that both would be 62.5 percent more by 2004. This would be the first water and sewer rate increase in 11 years.

Ward 2 Alderman Sheila Tolliver, a Democrat on the finance committee, said she questioned the feasibility of the sewer rates Johnson proposed in July. The city council will meet at the end of this month to discuss the rates and Johnson said he hopes for a vote in November.

Alderman Herbert H. McMillan's controversial anti-drug loitering bill, which drew protests from several black community leaders in the county and the American Civil Liberties Union, is on the agenda for tonight's meeting but the city council will not vote on it.

McMillan, a Ward 5 Republican, said he is working on amendments to the bill -- which proposes redefining public space to include private areas accessible to the general public such as public housing community sidewalks and grocery store parking lots. City police cannot ask drug dealers loitering in those areas to move along because the areas are privately owned land. The vote will be scheduled upon completion of the amendments.

The ACLU and other groups have complained that the bill will give police carte blanche to harass all African-Americans hanging out on sidewalks.

"Limiting people's freedom to stand in public places is a very dangerous thing to do," said Dwight Sullivan, ACLU staff counsel, who plans to speak against the bill at tonight's meeting. "We hope they adopt no bill." McMillan said the bill is meant to help Annapolitans, not limit their freedom or target African-Americans.

"This is a bill about open-air drug markets, not about race," he said. "Most of the people who have come to city council meetings have time and again changed the subject from drugs to race, and race is not mentioned one time in the bill. This is a public safety issue."

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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