Group protests council meeting

It says closed gathering is attempt to thwart effort to shrink city panel

August 08, 2002|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

A group that supports shrinking the Baltimore City Council to save money held a rally outside City Hall yesterday to protest what it called the council's last-minute attempts to thwart the proposal.

Representatives of city unions, the League of Women Voters, the Green Party and an activist group called ACORN claimed that council members were planning to hold a secret meeting today to plot to save four of their $48,000-per-year jobs. The coalition recently collected enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot in November to shrink the council from 19 to 15 members.

"I would call it an illegal meeting -- and I would want the City Council president to be brought up on charges for it," said Glen Middleton Sr., president of the AFSCME Local 44 union, of a closed-door meeting that City Council President Sheila Dixon has called for 3 p.m. today.

Dixon said the gathering she has called does not fall under the state's open-meeting laws because she believes that a majority of the 19 City Council members will not be present.

"It's not an illegal meeting," said Dixon. "If 10 City Council [members] attend, then it'll be an open meeting."

City Councilman Robert W. Curran said Dixon could rotate smaller groups of the council through her office every few minutes and avoid triggering the open-meetings law.

Dixon and Curran have each proposed alternative versions to shrink the council. But these alternatives have been bottled up in Curran's committee for several months because Curran has said he does not want to embarrass council members with a public debate.

There is bad blood between foes and advocates of council shrinking, with the union and ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) claiming that council members have been threatening retaliation such as cutting grant money to an affiliate of ACORN. Council members have denied the accusation.

The council's last chance to find an alternative to the group's proposal will come during a City Council meeting Monday. Before then, Dixon and Curran are polling members to see if they have enough votes to pass their proposals.

At the rally yesterday, state Sen. Ralph M. Hughes endorsed the citizens group's proposal, saying that voters should have a chance to decide the issue.

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