Council members spar over garage bill

Stancil charges cronyism as amendments are OK'd

November 20, 2001|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

An amended measure authorizing the city to spend $3 million in state funds to build a downtown garage triggered a shouting match last night between two City Council members.

Councilwoman Lisa J. Stancil, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, accused Council President Sheila Dixon of "political cronyism" for allowing the measure, which stalled last week amid legal confusion, to be taken up again with amendments. Last night, the council approved amending the bill.

Stancil argued that the bill, in fact, was defeated last week and that the changes offered last night were just a ploy by proponents to get the bill passed.

"I am rising to announce my disappointment, my dismay, in the leadership for allowing this body to be used for ... political favoritism, political cronyism," she said.

As Stancil continued, Dixon slammed her gavel against the podium and ordered her to be quiet. "Your comments are out of order. You need to get them in order," said Dixon.

As the pair continued to argue, Dixon turned off Stancil's microphone from the podium. Stancil stormed out of the chambers.

The battle is the latest chapter in the saga of the proposed 13-story garage at 210 St. Paul Place. More than half the 519 spaces in the garage, which will be owned and operated by the city, have been promised to CitiFinancial Corp., which has been implicated in a federal predatory lending case.

The spaces are part of an incentive package for the company to expand its headquarters downtown. Mayor Martin O'Malley sees the project as vital to downtown development and has pushed for approval of the measure.

At the same time, a community activist group has lobbied against it, alleging that the company profits from the poor. And Councilwoman Lois A. Garey, whose 1st District includes the garage, initially opposed it, saying it would not ease public parking problems. Last night, she changed her vote.

Last week the measure ran into legal problems. As written, the bill required the approval of three-fourths of the council -- 15 members -- but received only 12 votes. Supporters of the measure say the bill was drafted incorrectly and needed to be amended. On a 14-4 vote, the council approved those changes last night.

A final vote on the bill is set for next week.

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