Today was the first day of a new code of conduct for Board of Estimates meetings, and before the panel had even completed its deliberations, citizen activist Kim Trueheart was ordered out of the room.
Violation of Rule 7, which reads: “In the interest of promoting order and efficiency of hearings, persons who are disruptive to the hearing may be required to leave the hearing room.”
Trueheart, a fixture at BOE meetings, had begun lambasting the board sotto voce as it heard a protest about a $161,000 settlement with a politically-connected contractor who was handed emergency paving work prior to last September’s Grand Prix. (Read about it here.)
After City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young warned Trueheart to cease her sardonic comments, he ordered her to leave and motioned for a uniformed police officer to escort her from the room.
By the time Trueheart had finished protesting and packing her bag, Young, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and the mayor’s two appointees had voted to approve the settlement fee, and Young had gaveled the meeting to a close.
Putting Practices onto Paper
This was not Trueheart’s first run-in with police assigned to City Hall.
A year ago she was arrested as she entered the building to attend a Board of Estimates meeting and charged with disorderly conduct and trespassing. She spent more than 18 hours at Central Booking. All charges were later dropped.
A spokesman for Young, who heads the spending board, said the new rules are nothing more than putting on paper procedures that the panel has followed for years.
And the stationing of a uniformed and armed officer at the Wednesday hearings is no different than the police officer assigned to City Council meetings, said spokesman Lester Davis.
The three-page resolution (SEE TEXT BELOW) is designed to promote “better government, order and efficiency,” according to a preamble.
It gives Young the right to limit speakers to items on the board’s agenda and set a maximum time available for each speaker. It also requires that all protests be submitted in writing to the board’s clerk by noon on the day before the meeting.
It’s the “disruptive persons” clause and presence of a uniformed officer that sticks in the craw of both Trueheart and Arnold M. Jolivet, who dominates the protests before the board in any given week in his role as managing director of the Maryland Minority Contractors Association.
Trueheart says her constitutional rights to petition the government are being abridged and, in a letter to Young, provocatively adds that the rules “appear to mimic tactics by defenders of slavery when in 1836 the House of Representatives imposed a ‘gag’ rule which tabled, or postponed, action on all petitions relating to slavery without hearing them.”
Designed to Discourage
Jolivet is particularly incensed by the presence of uniformed officers in the hearing room, which he calls “overkill” because he and other members of the public must first pass through police screening and a metal detector to gain entry to City Hall.
In his letter of protest to Young, Jolivet described the rules as designed to “discourage, hinder and outright prevent and preclude” himself and other members of the public to file challenges and protests to board actions.
Jolivet said the code of conduct violated the Maryland Open Meetings Act when the board failed to give notice that it would vote on the rules at its January 22 meeting. Jolivet said he has filed a protest with the State Open Meetings Compliance Board and may take other legal action.
HERE IS THE TEXT OF THE NEW RULES: