Carter back in spotlight for effort

Resolution supports Annapolis High principal

Critics say it's a `waste of time'

Anne Arundel

January 05, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Alderwoman Cynthia Abney Carter said she didn't think her resolution supporting Annapolis High School Principal Deborah Williams would be controversial.

But after three public hearings and hours of impassioned public testimony about the merits and flaws of Williams, the school's embattled first-year principal, Carter came to a different conclusion.

"Guess it is," the Annapolis City Council member said, sighing.

The resolution backing Williams, a hard-charging educator whose style has divided the school community, is proving to be controversial on another level. It has annoyed some council members, who say that Carter has strayed from a council member's role by supporting Williams, an Anne Arundel County employee, in a personnel matter.

It's not the first time that Carter, a second-term council member, has taken a nontraditional approach to her job. She introduced a resolution last year stating the city's opposition to the war in Iraq. The bill was not passed.

"I'm presuming she doesn't understand what the function of a city council is," said Alderman David H. Cordle Sr. "This is a waste of time."

But others point out that the City Council has a long history of weighing in on matters that have little to do with filling potholes or balancing the budget. Over the years, council members have tried to bar local banks from investing in South Africa, to ban nuclear weapons from the city and close legal loopholes that allow murder suspects to get out of jail.

"It's a time-honored tradition," said former Alderman Carl O. Snowden, now an aide to Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens. Snowden recently organized a group of nearly 100 parents and students who spoke in Williams' favor for nearly an hour.

Council members acknowledge their collective habit.

"Annapolis is a diverse town, and we're just addressing issues that we find important," said Alderman Josh Cohen, who introduced an ordinance in opposition to legalizing slot machines.

Carter, a Democrat, was first elected in 1997 when she successfully waged a write-in campaign for the Ward 6 seat vacated by Wayne Turner. She became the first African-American woman to serve on the council, and was re-elected four years later.

While Carter has long been one of the council's most outspoken members, her latest resolution has made several council members uneasy because it focuses only on Williams.

"It's not our business," said Alderman Michael W. Fox, echoing the sentiments of several council members.

Others fear the council is spending too much time on legislation with a liberal bent.

Carter introduced an unsuccessful bill that would have banned real-looking toy guns in the city after a 7-year-old boy was charged last spring with using one to try to rob a video store. The city was skewered on conservative talk shows during the toy gun debate.

Cordle, who was a fierce critic of Carter's proposed toy gun ban, said, "She's giving the city a bad reputation. We're turning into a laughing stock."

And yet others have applauded Carter's actions.

Alderman George O. Kelley Sr. said, "We have a moral obligation to address these kind of issues. It's not our job, but they're our children so we have to go beyond what's legally appropriate."

Mayor Ellen O. Moyer, who does not support Carter's ordinance, said she has the right to introduce legislation. "It's part of fostering dialogue," she said.

Carter seems surprised to find herself in the midst of a public debate. "I never thought it would come to this," she said.

But she said she didn't regret introducing the ordinance. "I'm a matchstick. I'm going to apply the fire where it's needed," she said.

Carter said she sponsored the pro-Williams resolution because she was concerned about racism. Black students at the school consistently score lower on tests than whites. In public hearings, Carter has been quick to ask Williams' critics if they are aware of the school's test scores or desegregation policies.

"So many unfair things have been done to my people in particular that if I don't say something, I'm as guilty as anyone else," she said. "If people think it takes too much time or isn't the right place for it, well, I'm sorry but it's too bad."

The council is scheduled to vote on the Williams resolution Jan. 12.

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