Council tributes spread good will

Residents' mileposts, grand and ordinary, noted in resolutions

People cherish recognition

January 02, 2002|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

On a recent Thursday, a Baltimore city councilman grabbed his microphone, took the floor and orated about the importance of legislation the body was about to consider. The matter at hand? Sending official condolences to the family and fans of deceased rock star George Harrison.

Such is the way of the City Council, which issues sympathy cards and congratulatory notes by the hundreds. At times, the 19-member council also votes to take on international issues, such as supporting dual citizenship for people of Ghanaian heritage.

For Councilman Melvin L. Stukes, who is by all measures the champion of constituent cards, making laws is only part of his job. It's also about making citizens feel good.

"I think it makes a town a friendlier place that we will take the time from our busy schedules to congratulate you on your family reunion," he said.

And council members do so with gusto. Last year, the council voted to issue 1,947 official cards - ceremonial resolutions replete with a gold city seal in a custom print folder - and Stukes was the author of more than 500.

The council also approved more than 100 formal resolutions that serve mainly as position papers, such as stating council support for state legislative bills. Sometimes they produce less heady stuff, such as driving home the importance of bicycling or commemorating the death of George Harrison. (Councilman Robert W. Curran presented that resolution with great fanfare to four Beatles fans at the meeting.)

When it comes to lawmaking, the council is not so prolific. Last year, council members handled about 200 bills and ordinances, most dealing with land use and zoning issues.

The council easily outpaces the state legislature in resolution-making. In between dealing with more than 2,400 proposed laws during their 90-day session, lawmakers in Annapolis approved about 50 formal resolutions, some honorary and others serving as position papers.

The Senate president issues ceremonial resolutions at the request of senators. They do not require legislative action as the ones in the city do. Last year, the state's 47 senators requested 2,435 such resolutions, about 50 for each senator. The city issued about 100 per council member.

An inexpensive city service

Council members say the volume of ceremonial resolutions is driven by demand. People love them. And at about 0.62 cents apiece - plus 34 cents if they are mailed - they are an investment in good will.

"The most important thing in this job is making people happy," said Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. a Southeast Baltimore Democrat. "This gives them satisfaction. ... You would be surprised how many people take that stuff home and frame it."

Perhaps more important, ceremonial and formal resolutions give the council members, who have little power under the city's mayor-dominated government, a tangible product to show their constituents.

D'Adamo recalled a group of people upset about the closing of their church. D'Adamo knew the church was closing for budgetary reasons.

"What do you tell those people, `Ah, it's the church, there is nothing I can do?'" D'Adamo said.

Nope. Put in a formal resolution backing them instead.

"It looks like you are trying to help them. It makes people feel better," D'Adamo said.

Council members point out that ceremonial resolutions require little work and take up minimal time during their weekly meetings. Abbreviated versions are typed up by the council secretary and attached to the back of the agenda. A majority vote passes all of them at once.

Council President Sheila Dixon says there should be limits.

Often people receive ceremonial resolutions for untraditional milestones like a seventh annual conference or a 48th birthday. Or they serve personal interests.

Stukes gave a resolution to some of the guests at his 53rd birthday party. Councilwoman Lisa Joi Stancil, a Northeast Baltimore Democrat, gave one to her campaign manager, Julius Henson, on his birthday.

"We have more paper on [ceremonial resolutions] than on significant bills," Dixon said.

Dixon wants council members to concentrate on laws - or at least formal resolutions that affect Baltimore citizens.

Addressing serious issues

Formal resolutions are addressed in council meetings and often lead to committee hearings.

Councilman Kwame Osayaba Abayomi, a Southwest Baltimore Democrat, is known for putting in formal resolutions about places far beyond the boundaries of the neighborhoods that elected him.

In September, he put in one supporting the Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act of 2001, which would aid Liberian nationals illegally living in the United States. The bill is pending in Congress.

In November, he offered a formal resolution thanking the president of Ghana for extending dual citizenship to people with Ghanaian heritage who live outside that country.

Last month, Abayomi introduced a formal resolution - and plans to hold hearings - on slavery in Mauritania.

Consciousness raising

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