Council member in Columbia asks for guard at meetings

Official says she felt threatened after outburst from resident at hearing

August 17, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A Columbia Council representative is urging her colleagues to reinstate a security guard to ensure decorum at meetings after she said she felt threatened by a resident's behavior at a recent hearing.

Pearl Atkinson-Stewart said the council needs to hire a guard again -- one was present at meetings early this year -- to maintain crowd control. She said her concern was prompted by recent behavior, which she characterized as unruly and threatening, by a Long Reach resident who is a frequent critic of the Columbia Association.

"I just don't think we should put ourselves in this kind of harm's way," said Atkinson-Stewart, who represents Owen Brown.

Atkinson-Stewart said that at the meeting July 22, when the council was discussing whether the human rights group Amnesty International should be allowed to set up a booth at the Columbia Association's International Day festival, David Glass of Long Reach stood up from the audience and started yelling.

"He got really upset -- he's yelling and looking like he might be ready to charge up to the front," said Councilman Phil Marcus of Kings Contrivance, who said he attempted to calm Glass by taking him out to the corridor and talking to him.

`A point of fact'

Glass said he spoke out of turn because it appeared the council might delay acting on the issue until its next meeting, and the festival was only days away.

"I was just making a statement, a point of fact that this event will occur two days from now, and you people have no time for this," he said.

Glass denies he was loud or threatening and said he was unaware of Atkinson-Stewart's concerns.

"What I say at these meetings is spoken from the heart and the mind and from my own feeling of what is good and right," he said.

At the meeting, Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown decided to allow Amnesty International to participate in the festival after hearing from about a dozen people supporting the group. CA staff initially turned down the human rights group's application, claiming it wasn't in sync with the festival's theme of celebrating the planned community's ethnic and cultural diversity.

In January, Brown hired an unarmed guard from Expert Security Services in Linthicum for $18.50 an hour to attend the council's twice-monthly meetings after she said behavior by some residents escalated beyond what she considers normal impassioned debate. The guard was hired for the duration of the council term, which ended in April.

Thursday night, the council voted down Atkinson-Stewart's motion to reinstate a guard. However, after the vote, the council realized it violated its usual protocol of having an issue on the agenda for two meetings before taking action.

Barbara Russell, the council's vice chairwoman, said the issue will be on the agenda Aug. 26.

Marcus supports having a guard at meetings. But he added that he was concerned about residents being intimidated and suggested that the guard dress in plain clothes. But Atkinson-Stewart said she felt it was important that a guard wear a uniform.

`Dampening effect'

Russell said she hasn't felt threatened at meetings. She worries that having a security guard present sends the message that it's dangerous to attend council meetings and puts a "dampening effect" on residents.

"I just think it leaves a very bad taste in my mouth to have a security guard in uniform looming over the meeting," she said.

Some council members said it might be premature to hire a guard after one outburst. Cabell Greenwood, who represents River Hill, suggested that a guard should be present if the council chairman or Brown feels one is needed because of an especially heated topic.

"Ninety percent of the time, things are pretty sleepy here," Greenwood said at the council's meeting Thursday. "... To me it seems like overkill to have a security guard at every meeting."

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