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City Council, back from recess, to address minority contracting


The City Council will return from its summer recess tonight to face issues ranging from minority contracting goals to confirming a new parks and recreation director.

Among the matters that will be before the council is what to do about the city's minority contracting law, which was nullified by a federal judge this year.

The law required that 20 percent of all city contracts go to minority-owned companies and 3 percent to businesses owned by women.

During recent council committee hearings, Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration proposed raising the contracting goals for minorities and women to 35 percent and enforcing them at the Board of Estimates.

The council also will resume hearings on increasing the city's fees for use of underground conduits - an effort being pushed by the administration to tap further into a revenue source.

Fees that cities charge companies to use the conduit have become a precious commodity as computer business grows.

The city's law, which is a century old, charges 22 cents a foot for use of the conduit. The mayor would like to see the fee increased to at least $3 a foot. In New York, companies pay $9 a foot.

"We need to make sure we are using every tax dollar," City Council President Sheila Dixon said. "We need to pin down a figure."

Development issues also will be on the council's agenda.

The city is struggling to find money to demolish the Strathdale Apartments and replace them with town houses.

Debate over whether to use the site of the recently demolished Hollander Ridge public housing in East Baltimore for senior housing is also expected to resume.

The council will hold confirmation hearings for O'Malley's nominee to head the Department of Parks and Recreation, Marvin F. Billups Jr.

Before the nomination, 17 of the council's 19 members asked O'Malley to retain the former director, Thomas V. Overton.

Council members appear eager to introduce new legislation starting today.

Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a West Baltimore Democrat, is expected to introduce legislation today that would prohibit "predatory lenders" - mortgage companies with high-interest lending rates to the poor - from receiving city funds.

Last week, the Rev. Norman A. Handy, a Southwest Baltimore councilman, asked state lawmakers to support legislation calling for a voter referendum to limit the number of liquor licenses in Baltimore.

Cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles have enacted similar measures, which have helped reduce crime, Handy said.

Hearings on the referendum bill will be held near the end of the year to draw attention to drinking during the holidays, he said.

"This isn't some ethical crusade," Handy said. "This is a tool to reduce violence in the city."

The council will meet today at 5 p.m. in the council chambers.

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