Residents protest at City Council meeting

Public housing leaders seek to air complaints about Graziano

January 15, 2002|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

Carrying signs declaring "Graziano must go," about 20 leaders of city public housing residents stormed into the City Council meeting last night demanding that its members hear their complaints about Housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano.

The residents' protest temporarily stopped proceedings as council members scrambled to quiet them, and council President Sheila Dixon thumped her gavel, ordering them to leave. Two security guards were called to usher them to a room outside the council chambers.

"You cannot demonstrate in the council," Dixon told them. "If you want, we can meet after the council meeting. This is not a public hearing."

"We're only going to say one thing," yelled back Anna Warren, chairwoman of the resident advisory board, as other residents packed the aisle in the public seating area.

Warren finally agreed to a meeting after the council recessed, and the residents adjourned to wait in the council lobby.

In an interview, Warren said tenants were upset that Graziano did not consult them about last week's dismissal of Charles Gaskins, who oversaw day-to-day operations of public housing. Warren said Graziano promised to keep residents informed.

"What I'm finding out is they go do what they want to do and tell you later," Warren said. She defended Gaskins, saying his job overseeing the maintenance of housing was made all but impossible because workers were stretched thin.

Graziano was out of town last night. His spokesman, Kevin Brown, said, "He really has the right to hire and fire as he sets up a new team. Normally the resident leadership is not consulted on personnel issues."

In other matters, Dixon said she plans to introduce legislation this year that will strengthen the council's powers. She wants to change the City Charter to reduce the proportion of votes required in the 19-member council to override a mayoral veto from three-fourths to two-thirds.

She also wants to change the budget process so that money the council cuts from the mayor's budget can be used for other programs. Though it would still be the mayor's decision how to spend the money cut from the budget, Dixon said, the council members will be able to lobby him for projects they feel are important.

"People look at the council as a passive body ... but we are actually the board members of a corporation," Dixon said. The changes would "strengthen our authority in operating government more efficiently and more effectively."

Her proposed legislation represents the recommendations of a committee she appointed last year to assess the council.

That committee also suggested that the council be trimmed from 19 members to 15 - legislation that Dixon introduced last night.

Also introduced last night was a bill to amend the City Charter to shrink the Board of Estimates, the five-member body that oversees city expenditures. The measure would reduce the power of the mayor, who controls the majority of votes.

The council members want to eliminate two positions on the board - the city solicitor and public works director, both mayoral appointees - leaving a three-member panel made up of the mayor, City Council president and comptroller, all elected officials.

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