Do Board of Estimates rules promote efficiency or abridge free speech?

New rules of conduct are promulgated at today's Board of Estimates meeting and a well-known citizen is ordered to leave

kt ordered out

A police officer approaches Kim Trueheart after she was ordered to leave today’s Board of Estimates meeting for disruptive behavior.

Photo by: Mark Reutter

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.

Her offense?

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.

When the police officer told Trueheart "to leave the building," Trueheart replied that she was asked only "to leave the room." Then ensued a brief face-off. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

When the police officer told Trueheart to leave the building, Trueheart replied that she was asked only to leave the hearing room.  A brief face-off ensued. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

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.


BOE rules pg 1

BOE rules pg 2

BOE rules pg 3

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  • Sheila Ebelein

    Just the latest in “knuckle under and shut up”.

  • KnowNothingParty

    Well you cant allow rebel rousers to interrupt meetings just because they can either. Here here.

    • ushanellore

      This, may be, should have been rabble rousers but I like rebel rousers just as well. Nice neologism.

  • Dbaums

    As someone who sits in on zoning appeal hearings in Baltimore and surrounding counties, some type of rule structure is necessary in local government forums. I’d be the last person to advocate for stifling public comment or free speech, but nothing would get done if anyone could comment on anything they wanted at any time they wanted in any manner they wanted. City government is slow enough. Make your speech known to media and in social media, the ballot box, and your councilman’s mail/email box, but getting in the way by being the loudest person in the room often hurts your cause more than helping it (and oftentimes is driven by the enjoyment of hearing one’s own voice rather than effecting real change or any other truly altruistic or civic purpose).

    • BmoreFree

      Generally I would agree, but does the Board of Estimates always publish the agenda far enough in advance to submit a protest? If the BoE brings up items not on the agenda or tangential to the agenda does this waive the requirement for submission of a protest in advance?

      Is there a city hall non-profit watch dog that is out there? Perhaps someone should found a local chapter of Transparency International or some other organization dedicated to transparent government, in order to shed some light on the often complex processes of local government.

      • baltimorebrew

        Here’s the process: the BOE publishes its agenda on-line Monday afternoons (rarely before 3 pm) through this link:

        Written protests to agenda items must be received in writing “no later than by noon” Tuesday. They must be sent to the board’s clerk in the Comptroller’s Office and must answer several specific questions (see Rules 1-3, above). The protests are then heard, at the board’s discretion, at its 9 AM meeting on Wednesday.

        When there’s a municipal holiday on Mondays, the agenda is published on-line Tuesday afternoon, and written protests may be submitted as late as the start of the Wed. board meeting. -mr

        • BmoreFree

          So you have approximately approximately 21 hours to read digest and respond to the agenda. I noticed there was no online submission process for petitions, interesting. Thanks Brew.

          • lanas

            I called the BOE phone number to find out how to submit comments. I was told to mail them. I asked about email…got bounced around, spoke with Sandra Griffin. She said email to her. I emailed to get my comments into the BOE record. It did not happen. Good luck participating in your own cities business.

        • ushanellore

          My God, there’s no time to protest and the written repartee must obviously, especially on line, follow a strict format–Rules 1-3 will be the speed bump.

          We all have seen satisfaction surveys–there is no space in these to express true interlocutory dissatisfaction–they all go from grades 1 through 7 or some such rubbish and are democracy’s way of dissing the public by saying, “Here see, we are giving you a way to be a part of this great participatory process but you’ve got 50 lines to fill out and express your discontent grades 1 through 7 and if you fill out grade 7 for totally dissatisfied more than 20 times, then we’ll label you a malcontent.”

          These meetings are big fat drones anyway and they beg to be disrupted just from “break the boredom and have a coffee break” normal reaction. The whole shebang is an eyewash and Trueheart is a hero for calling them on it.

      • Dbaums

        All excellent points.

    • ushanellore

      I believe Kim Trueheart does a heck of a lot of altruistic things plus disrupting these so called orderly meetings that are no more than a bunch of quid pro quo–what I mean is that the two are not mutually exclusive–disruption of these meetings or angry denunciation of business as usual can go on parallel to or simultaneously with the use of the social media, letters to the regular media, blogging, the ballot box and so on. The enjoyment of hearing one’s own voice is a universal human flaw and if one accuses every protester of that flaw then one would have no protests.

      Letters to the editor, blogging, social media and letters to councilmen etc can also be described and belittled as exercises in narcissism. Thank God we like to hear our own voices–that type of vanity can be a force for change and it is no match for the vanity and the corruption that seem to drive global, national and local politics.

      • Dbaums

        It’s the relative efficacy of the approach. What if shouting and making your voice heard in that way at meetings actually HURTS your cause? It’s something I see with environmental groups all the time. They hem and haw and accuse everyone under the sun of corruption and unfair play, and HURT the very cause they’re so vocal about (and one which, personally, is very important to me). Clear, consistent, logical, respectful advocacy has done as much, if not more, to advance conservation, civil rights, gay rights, community initiatives, etc., as “protests.”

        Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to stay quiet and hide in the corner, I’m just advocating a better, more effective approach to achieving one’s ends rather than knee-jerk, caustic assaults on public order.

        One more thing: My comment above never attacked Ms. Trueheart or called her out for doing anything wrong or improper. I don’t know her, never met her, nor have I encountered her during council/board meetings. My comment was general in nature about these types of meetings, and the individuals I’ve encountered at them.

  • davethesuave

    it’s called speaking truth to power, and it’s our right to do so as free American citizens. the fact that it may hinder “the City’s business” is just too damn bad. This administration could use a LOT more hindering. Go On, Trueheart, with your disruptive self. Tip of my hat to you.

  • ushanellore

    Security versus liberty,
    safety versus the ability
    to do as one wishes,
    to go on planes barefoot
    in the park or at work
    to dress as one pleases
    to speak the mind
    to confront the kings
    and the king makers
    to shake the fist in their faces
    to tell the cops off
    because they’ve been brutish,
    to live underground
    refusing to pay taxes
    to pitch a tent anywhere
    hang a banner out
    and declare oneself
    an opponent of business as usual,
    to be a gadfly– a stirrer
    of simmering pots
    of evil brew at formal meetings–
    that’s disorderly.

    Then what’s orderly?

    The tanks that came to Tiananmen
    were orderly–
    they came upon orders from
    the high and mighty,
    row upon row,
    through the streets navigating tough corners,
    found the rabble roused for action
    and mowed them in an orderly fashion,
    they were uniformed– the men who drove the tanks–
    celebrated with medals on their chests
    saluted their bosses
    and were given pay checks for a very orderly
    put down of disorderly–

    Heil Hitler was orderly,
    It was a reflexive response
    thousands upon thoughtless thousands
    complicit in empire building
    and broad daylight ethnic cleansing
    kidnapping of the napping,
    an inexplicable disconnection
    from reality but very obedient
    and very orderly was Heil Hitler,
    a willingness to be trained
    and to do as told,
    row upon row of shower heads
    releasing killer gas on children and women
    barbed wire around camps,
    guards ready for action,
    guns polished and carried
    to the beat of goose steps
    that was all very orderly….

    Always the kleptocracy
    pretending to be meritocracy,
    will practice hypocrisy and scream “Orderly!”

    Praise those who give them “Disorderly!”

    Usha Nellore

  • Day_Star

    The new rules are in-line with other municipalities and much like City commission meetings, from my experience, except for the requirement that “all protests be submitted in writing to the board’s clerk by noon on the day before the meeting” — what the heck? But, I believe that time limits and effectively limiting one person to speak once both prevents filibusters that could run meetings to ungodly hours or days and prevents having the same person get up and go to the front of the crowd over and over again like it’s an unregulated junior high raffle contest. I’m surprised it left out “no whip cream or shaving cream pies” — do people not do that anymore? Shucks. I miss turning on the news and seeing a good face splat.

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