The Baltimore County Council voted last night to add some legal firepower in fighting a proposal to relocate more than 1,300 families from inner-city public housing to the more affluent suburbs.
The last-minute request from County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III to hire outside counsel was the county's latest move to stop a proposed settlement of a housing discrimination suit between Baltimore and the American Civil Liberties Union.
The tentative settlement would end an ACLU suit filed against Baltimore and involving the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The ACLU charges that for 60 years public housing tenants have been intentionally segregated.
The proposed settlement, announced last week, would provide rent subsidies to 1,342 public-housing families for use in predominantly white areas. The plan would affect not only Baltimore County but other suburban counties as well.
Mr. Ruppersberger, who has vowed to stop the settlement "any way I can," is fearful that an influx of poor families would overwhelm efforts to revitalize the county's older, poorer communities.
Late last week, an angry Mr. Ruppersberger asked the county's congressional delegation to intervene with HUD -- which has to OK any settlement -- and force the department to arrange a meeting with suburban officials.
Michael H. Davis, a top Ruppersberger aide, said yesterday that the administration would seek outside counsel with expertise in federal fair housing law. He said the county had not focused on any one law firm, but added that the legal expertise probably would come from attorneys in Washington.
Councilman Stephen G. "Samuel" Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said he is worried that fear and racial tensions could rise because not enough is known about the effect of the settlement on communities and "if outside legal advice can help give us the answers, we need to move quickly."
The emergency approval limits the county to spending up to $15,000 in fees for the outside help.
County administration officials are still smarting over being left out of any discussion on the tentative settlement.
Their ire rose further over the weekend, after a meeting with city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.
"We were told that the city was going to work on a strategy to deal with this on a regional basis," said Mr. Davis. "And we were told that once this strategy was worked out, they would let us know. It's the same old thing -- they'll dictate to us and we have no say."
But a Howard County housing official saw Friday's meeting differently. "I had the feeling that the city would welcome our input into the process as soon as officials there were close to a final settlement," said housing administrator Leonard S. Vaughan.