Reshaped council prompts study of rules

New districts will force panel to operate differently

December 08, 2003|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The reshaped Baltimore City Council that gets sworn in a year from now, with 14 single-member districts rather than six three-member districts, won't just look different. It will have to operate differently, too.

Take vacancies. Now, if someone leaves the council, the two remaining members from that district decide on a replacement. The rest of the council goes along with their choice.

But on the revamped council where each district will have one representative, not three, when a seat becomes vacant, there will be no one left from that district to give the nod.

A commission established by City Council President Sheila Dixon is studying local ordinances, the city charter and council rules to see if they need to be changed to accommodate the council structure that takes effect in December next year.

Dixon will announce formation of the Baltimore City Council Transition Commission at a news conference at City Hall at 4:30 p.m. today.

"There are changes that have to be made. We're looking forward to an exciting process and a constructive outcome," said commission Chairman Zelig Robinson, an attorney and a board member of the Baltimore Efficiency and Economy Foundation (BEEF), a nonprofit group that studies city government.

The commission expects to present recommendations to Dixon by September.

The new composition of the council, approved in a referendum in November last year, could affect other ways the council operates. As an example, Robinson pointed to how land-use policies are set.

When zoning changes are proposed for part of the city, the three council members who represent that district come to a consensus, and the rest of the council customarily defers to them. Some fear that practice -- if continued -- would give too much power to individual members of the revamped council because a single person would have power to decide zoning for a whole district.

Other members of the commission are former council members Vera P. Hall and Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III; Lenneal J. Henderson, professor at the University of Baltimore's School of Public Affairs; Stuart O. Simms, former state secretary of public safety and correctional services; George A. Nilson, president of BEEF; Karen Footner, executive director of BEEF; Joseph L. Smith, director of city relations for the Johns Hopkins Institutions; and Michael Seipp, who ran unsuccessfully for council this year.

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