In constant attendance

Observer: Beatrice Wolf's concern about Westminster, where she was born and raised, has made her a familiar sight at council meetings for the past 30 years.

March 13, 2002|By Maria Blackburn | Maria Blackburn,SUN STAFF

The elected officials come to Westminster Common Council meetings because it's their job.

The developers come to sell their parking decks, their luxury housing developments, their dreams.

The Boy Scouts come to get credit for their citizenship merit badges.

The majority of Westminster's 17,000 residents steer clear of these 90-minute gatherings filled with talk of zoning ordinances and public hearings, consent calendars, mayoral proclamations and the minutiae of municipal government, preferring instead to stay home.

Nobody comes who doesn't have to.

Nobody, that is, except Beatrice Wolf.

She doesn't even live in Westminster.

Call her a gadfly or a watchdog, a citizen activist, the pulse of the community or just a nudge. What's indisputable is that for the past 30 years or so, she has been attending twice-monthly council meetings motivated not by a particular issue, but by a love for the city where she was born and raised.

"I come because I'm concerned about the community and the things going on here," said Wolf, a 73-year-old retired factory worker and former waitress who moved out of Westminster to a senior housing development just over the county line five years ago. "I'm not an educated person, but I'm no dummy. Some people can't pull the wool over my eyes."

"Ms. Beatrice Wolf suggested that the Downtown Business Association should pay for the arrival of Santa Claus downtown, since they will benefit directly from the activity." -- Sept. 28, 1992, meeting minutes, Westminster Common Council

Wolf always takes the same front-row seat in the council chambers. Even though her comments can range from bad cable television service and rogue skateboarders to speeding on Cranberry Road, she always begins by stating her name and address, as if city officials haven't committed both to memory.

Wolf's questions could easily be answered with a quick call to the city clerk or a perusal of Westminster's Web site.

But she prefers to attend council meetings and get her answers in person.

She doesn't speak just for herself, either. Often, she said, her friends have questions or complaints they're too timid to deliver to the city in person, so they tell her and off she goes.

"County resident Beatrice Wolf stated that a traffic signal is needed at the intersection of Center Street and Cranberry Road." -- Nov. 26, 2001, meeting minutes, Westminster Common Council

Westminster has grown rapidly in the past two decades, from a little farm town to a bedroom community filled with out-of-towners, many of whom identify more strongly with Baltimore and Washington than with Carroll County.

Wolf, who was born and raised in a modest house on John Street in Westminster, serves as a reminder of the city's past. She is reminiscent of a time when people used words such as "reckon'" and "s'pose," when going shopping meant heading to Mather's department store downtown -- not Kohl's on Route 140 -- and when everybody in town knew everybody else.

When she sees the city growing so rapidly, she can't keep quiet. "This is the only town I know," Wolf said as she sat in an armchair in her tidy apartment, a sketch of Westminster's railroad depot from the 1890s hanging on the wall behind her. "I know we have to have growth. I just hate to see our town get overpopulated."

City staff and elected officials have grown so accustomed to Wolf's presence at council meetings -- in most cases, her tenure surpasses theirs -- that they depend on her institutional knowledge, her pointed questions and observations, which often concern issues outside their jurisdiction.

They worry about her when she isn't there. They invite her to speak when she is.

"If it's 20 minutes to 8 p.m. and we're done, whether she raises her hand or not, I ask her, `Miss Wolf, do you have anything for us?' " said Damian L. Halstad, president of Westminster Common Council and Wolf's attorney. "I basically treat her like a sixth council member."

"She's the perfect example that the public is our best eyes and ears," said Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's director of planning and public works, who sent a crew to fix a pothole within 24 hours of Wolf telling him about it at a meeting.

"She kind of keeps us on our toes," agreed Suzanne P. Albert, a council member since 1995.

"County resident Beatrice Wolf stated that she is opposed to the idea of changing the name of Western Maryland College." -- Jan. 14, 2002, meeting minutes, Westminster Common Council

Wolf attended St. John School in Westminster through the 10th grade but quit at age 15 to work in a local factory because a war was on and she needed to earn money to help support her family. She married young, was divorced and never remarried or had children.

She started going to council meetings in the 1970s -- she's not sure exactly when or why. "I probably just came off and on to be curious," Wolf said.

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