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Councilmania

On the agenda for Jan. 24

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) proposed a rare rule change to the Council, and to make things even more “meta,” her proposal would change the rules about changing Council rules.

That this all relates to the recent appointment of William “Pete” Welch to replace his retired mother Agnes Welch in the 9th District should surprise no one. William Welch’s appointment, Clarke (who voted against it) says with typical understatement, “caused quite a discussion in the community [regarding] how that process should be conducted.” Since today’s single-member districts require out-of-district members to vote on the replacement (whereas the old three-member districts effectively allowed the district’s two remaining councilmembers to name the replacement), new ideas for how the Council will conduct such appointments in the future are in the air. Next week, Councilmember William Cole (D-11th District) is expected to put a proposed rule change on the table, for instance.

Currently, the Council can change its rules with the vote of a 10-member supermajority. Clarke’s proposal would require that any rule changes involving a Council vacancy go to public hearing first. “Although it’s our rules, I wanted to make sure that whatever is proposed gets a public hearing,” Clarke says. “I actually proposed changes in 2004 that would open this process up to public hearing.” That proposal went nowhere, she says, but in this case she hopes community input will improve whatever new rules come.

There is one small irony. Currently the Council requires a 10-member majority to vote to suspend its rules. And that means, theoretically, that anyone proposing a rule change for which they wanted to avoid public hearings, and had 10 votes to suspend the rules, could simply do away with the public hearing anyway.

11-0637 Revenue Obligations – Water Projects – Maximum Aggregate Principal Amount This would increase the amount the city could borrow for water-related infrastructure projects by $432 million.

11-0638 Revenue Obligations – Wastewater Projects – Maximum Aggregate Principal amount Increases the amount the city can borrow by another $230 million or so.

The Read: The two bills are related in that the Department of Public Works (DPW) will do the needed work. The first bill arises from new federal environmental rules requiring more treatment of uncovered drinking water, Celeste Amato, a DPW spokesperson, says. The city will cover—that is, bury inside tanks—some of its smaller drinking water sources to protect them from contamination. Some of the larger open reservoirs will get new treatment facilities as needed to comply with the new regulations. The second bill is part of a long-running federal consent decree requiring the city to reduce pollution in the Chesapeake Bay. The city’s aging sewer pipes leak, and storm water runoff is still not contained, though progress is being made. The money to repay the nearly two-thirds of a billion dollars to be borrowed will be collected through city water and sewer bills.

11-0639 Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation – Review of Plans for City-Owned Property

The Read: Councilmember James Kraft (D-1st District) introduced this bill, which would double the time the city’s Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation has to review plans for the demolition, rehabbing, etc., of city-owned property. Currently it’s 45 days; this would make it 90 days.

11-0640 Hotel Room Tax – Penalty

The Read: This would reduce the fine hotel owners have to pay for failing to give the city its room tax. The current penalty is the back tax, plus 12 percent interest, plus the back tax again—a 100 percent penalty. The bill, introduced by Kraft, would reduce the penalty to 10 percent of the tax.

11-0244R Request for State Legislation – Parking Near Hydrants

The Read: Another Kraft initiative, this bill would reduce the space you have to leave between your bumper and the hydrant from 30 feet to 20, in keeping with other great American cities.

11-0246R Request for State Legislation – Repeal Corkage Ban in Maryland

The Read: Councilmember Bill Henry (D-4th District) introduced this to allow restaurant owners who have a liquor license to allow patrons to bring their own wine, and charge a “corkage fee” to make back a little of what they would lose on wine sales. Currently one can only BYO to a restaurant without a liquor license. Other jurisdictions—notably Washington, D.C.—allow the restaurant owner to decide his or her policy. “I’m trying to think of a tactful way to say. . . I’m trying to help a bunch of small businesses,” Henry says, “and the people getting in the way are their own trade association.” He says he hopes that if there is no legislation this year it will come back in next year’s general assembly session.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Feb. 7 at 5 p.m.

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