Council vacancy hearing rule is rejected

December 07, 2006|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun Reporter

Baltimore's City Council has rejected a rule that would have required neighborhood groups to be included in filling vacancies on the council, a process that is likely to play out next month after Mayor Martin O'Malley becomes governor.

On an 8-7 vote, the council defeated the rule change, proposed by Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, which would have required the body to alert neighborhood groups to a hearing that must be held to fill council vacancies. The proposal needed 10 affirmative votes to pass.

A vacancy is likely to take place next year because City Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake is expected to serve the remainder of City Council President Sheila Dixon's term. By city charter, Dixon must leave the council and will take over as mayor once O'Malley is sworn in.

"When a vacancy occurs, the neighborhoods should provide [their] perspective for the council," Clarke said.

To fill a vacancy, the council must convene a committee and conduct a public hearing. The proposed change would have required neighborhood groups to be notified of that hearing and also would have allowed them to present their recommendations to the council.

City Councilman James B. Kraft, who voted against the measure, said the language of the proposal did not fit its intent. The rule change required council members to contact neighborhood groups registered with the city's planning department. That roster of neighborhood groups, he said, is often out of date.

"I think that this language would create problems," he said.

If, for instance, a group was accidentally left out of the process, its leaders might be able to challenge the committee's findings, he said. Kraft said he will propose his own rule change at tonight's council meeting to open up the process of filling council vacancies.

Other council members who voted against the measure include Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, Blake, Helen L. Holton, Agnes Welch, Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Paula Johnson Branch.

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