Spending bill runs into legal confusion

Charter question snares City Council measure on parking lot funding

November 13, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

A measure authorizing the city to spend $3 million in state funds to build a downtown garage as part of an incentive package for a company accused of predatory lending hit a snag last night in the City Council.

Though the bill technically passed, it was immediately sent to the city solicitor to determine whether the 12-6 vote was sufficient under a provision of the city charter that governs spending. At issue is whether the legislation requires approval of three-fourths of the council - 15 members - or whether a simple majority - 10 votes - suffices.

City Council President Sheila Dixon said the bill will go back to the council after the city solicitor reviews it. She abstained from voting because the $3 million came through the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, where she works.

Deputy Mayor Jeanne D. Hitchcock, who has been lobbying council members to pass the bill so that construction can begin at 210 St. Paul Place, indicated last night that the bill might have been drafted under the wrong section of law and could be amended if that was the case. If the solicitor says a 15-vote majority is necessary, it is expected that the administration will lobby hard to get the three additional votes.

The proposed 13-story, 519-space garage would be owned and operated by the city. But 275 of the spaces have been offered to CitiFinancial Corp., which has been implicated in an illegal lending case, as part of an incentive package for the company to expand its operations downtown.

Council chambers were a portrait of confusion last night as the bill came up for a vote. Twenty members of Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, which is battling the deal, filed out when the bill passed.

But when it appeared that there was a problem, a recess was called and the ACORN members rushed back in. Meanwhile, Hitchcock, council Vice President Stephanie Rawlings Blake and legislative aides tried to figure out the law.

Voting against the bill were council members Kenneth N. Harris Sr., and Lisa Joi Stancil, both Northeast Baltimore Democrats; Lois A. Garey, a Southeast Baltimore Democrat; Bernard C. "Jack" Young, an East Baltimore Democrat; Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a West Baltimore Democrat; and the Rev. Kwame Osayaba Abayomi, a Southwest Baltimore Democrat.

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