City Hall Notebook: They Did That in 2014

(photo by P. Kenneth Burns/WYPR)
(photo by P. Kenneth Burns/WYPR)

The Baltimore City Council’s final meeting of 2014 began uncharacteristically late Thursday. Council President Jack Young, along with Councilmen Warren Branch, Jim Kraft and Mary Pat Clarke were busy making speeches at the swearing in of Frank Conaway Sr., the newest member of the Maryland Republican Party, to his fifth term as clerk of the circuit court.  His daughter, Belinda Conaway, was also sworn as register of wills; occupying an office her mother, Mary, held for 30 years.

Once they got down to business, the members set up final votes on bills to expand the definition of a vacant property and to reform the process of impounding animals for their first meeting of the new year; at 5 p.m. Jan. 12.

Councilman Jim Kraft introduced a bill that would target human trafficking by banning hotels from renting rooms for less than half a day.

With that the members adjourned for the annual holiday season lighting of the Washington Monument.

Now that part of the legislative process is done for the year (the council will still have hearings this month,) we decided to take a look at what they did this year.

Here’s what they did in…

January: The Council rejected a 10 cent fee on paper and plastic bags that Councilman Brandon Scott had introduced seven months earlier. Councilman Jim Kraft would come back with a five cent bag fee proposal in April (see November.)

February: Councilman Carl Stokes introduced a resolution to begin looking into the city’s failed speed and red light camera program in his committee — Taxation, Finance and Economic Development.  The council, however, moved the probe to Kraft’s committee, Judiciary and Legislative Investigations.

The council also confirmed Rudy Chow as director of public works.  Chow, who headed the Bureau of Water and Wastewater, succeeded Alfred Foxx.

March: The Council banned smoking within 50 feet of a playground, school yard or athletic field.  The proposal earned the support of the entire council, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the health department.

The council also confirmed Niles Ford as the city’s fire chief with only one no vote – Council President Young.  His spokesman, Lester Davis, said Young believed there were qualified candidates in the department to fill that role. Ford headed the fire department in Lincoln, Neb. for four years and was city manager of Chamblee, Ga. before coming to Baltimore…

April: Council votes to “Ban The Box.” The law forbids private companies from asking job seekers if they were convicted of a crime on employment applications and from conducting background checks until after a job interview…

June: Council reforms the city’s curfew law.  Children under 14 now must be home by 9 p.m. Youths 14-16 must be in by 10 p.m. on school nights and 11 p.m. otherwise. Parents who knowingly allow their children to be on the streets after curfew are liable for a fine of up to $500. They can avoid the fine by agreeing to counseling or community service…

The council also approved the mayor’s $2.49 billion operating budget.  The spending plan for 2015 is about $100 million higher than the previous year and contained no major cuts to services and no tax or fee increases.  It also doesn’t count on revenue from speed or red light cameras…

August: Mayor Rawlings-Blake appointed Councilman Bill Cole to lead the Baltimore Development Corporation, the city’s economic development agency.  Cole, a two-term councilman, replaced Brenda McKenzie, who turned in her resignation after less than two years on the job…

September: A committee appointed by Young named Eric Costello to finish Cole’s term. The selection of the 33-year-old government information technology auditor took less than five minutes after four hours of interviews with 13 other candidates. Costello was unanimously confirmed by the council and took his seat in October.

November: The council passed bills to ban plastic bags and to require police officers to wear body cameras. The mayor vetoed both of them in December.

Story originally posted at news.wypr.org on December 5, 2014.

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