Dixon calls meeting to rally support for City Council reform plans

August 07, 2002|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

With one proposal to shrink the City Council on the November ballot, and the deadline to add others just days away, Council President Sheila Dixon is trying to rally support for a rival reform plan.

Dixon has asked council members to meet with her tomorrow in an effort to win backing for one of two alternatives.

The gathering, at 3 p.m. in City Hall, is not a formal council meeting and will not be open to the public unless a quorum of the council - 10 or more members - is present, Dixon said.

"I kind of saw it as coming, and I tried to forewarn my council to develop a strategy to deal with this," Dixon said.

Dixon was referring to the successful petition drive by a coalition of community and labor groups that wants to cut four members from the 19-member council and create 14 single-member districts. A 15th member, the council president, would run at large.

Currently, 18 members run in six three-member districts, and the president runs at large.

The coalition, Community and Labor United for Baltimore (CLUB), gathered more than 10,000 signatures to get its proposal on the ballot.

Since then, Dixon and other council members opposed to the plan have tried to revive their reform bills, which have languished in committee for months. The council's last chance to vote one of its own plans onto the ballot is Monday.

Dixon's bill calls for a 15-member council, with seven two-member districts plus the at-large council president. Councilman Robert W. Curran has proposed 17 members, with four four-member districts and an at-large president.

Council members proposed two other reform bills, but those never got hearings before Curran's committee, Dixon said.

CLUB calls Dixon's efforts a cynical attempt to confuse voters and derail the CLUB plan.

Having multiple plans on the ballot would reduce the chances for any change because, according to a preliminary opinion from the city solicitor's office, the conflicting proposals would invalidate each other if both passed.

"If you were going to do anything, they should have done it early on, not try to pass it now because you feel your job is threatened," said CLUB member Rose Taylor, of East Baltimore.

Some council members agree.

"I don't want it to look like it's a way of sabotaging" the CLUB plan, said Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr.

But Dixon and Curran note that their plans were drafted before CLUB's got on the ballot.

"This is independent of the unions and the CLUB folks," Curran said. "We need to give the voters the option of a multi-member reduction."

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