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Citizen groups team up to fight

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Two citizens groups, born of separate but equally contentious decisions by Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, have joined forces in an alliance that could spell double trouble for the executive's policies in November.

In the past year, Ruppersberger's push for a neighborhood renewal law that includes the power to condemn family-owned apartments and businesses has angered scores of community activists. So has a decision to expand the main jail near central Towson by about 1,000 beds.

Although they live miles apart, residents in the neighborhoods most affected by the executive's decisions say they share a common experience: Their opinions were never sought, and their wishes have been ignored.

Now leaders of a group formed to fight the jail expansion - Coalition for Open Government - have formed a partnership with Citizens for Property Rights, whose leaders gathered 44,000 petition signatures to force a Nov. 7 referendum on the renewal law.

On the same ballot, Baltimore County voters will be asked to approve borrowing $41.1 million for the jail and other government projects.

The two groups plan to pool their resources and share advertising money to lobby against both ballot questions. Radio spots and newspaper ads are being planned.

And when voters go to the polls in November, they'll be handed palm-cards asking them to vote "no" on both Question 3, the renewal law, and Question C, the referendum that includes jail money.

"They have the ability to raise substantial funds. We have the manpower," said Janice Hundt, co-owner of a Middle River tag and title shop and treasurer of Citizens for Property Rights. "And we are going to unite the two."

Said Kathy Forbes, a Towson resident and founder of the Coalition for Open Government, which filed papers with the county elections board Monday: "We see that these two issues are very parallel. In both instances, the county executive did what he thought was best without involving the people."

County officials say that they are not overly concerned about the partnership, and that the groups' criticisms are misplaced.

"This administration has a strong record of commitment to communities dating back to its inception," said Elise Armacost, a Ruppersberger spokeswoman. "We've been working side by side with community groups and business groups to strengthen neighborhoods all the time."

While some county leaders have predicted the renewal law will fail, Armacost said Baltimore County voters have a strong track record of supporting bond bills.

But if the borrowing plan is rejected, she said the county would still add about 400 beds to the Kenilworth Drive jail to replace an obsolete corrections facility on Bosley Avenue.

Altogether, voters will be asked to approve eight bond questions totaling $191.5 million for school construction, parks, public works, land preservation, community colleges and other projects. Question C, titled "operational buildings," asks voters to sanction $41.1 million, which includes $30.5 million for the jail.

The first signs of a partnership were visible last week, when jail opponents distributed fliers outside a Randallstown debate on the renewal law.

"The citizens of Towson want you to know that we support your fight against Dutch Ruppersberger," it read. "He's out of control, and not just in Essex."

A debate between Ruppersberger and state Del. James F. Ports Jr. on Baltimore County's renewal law is scheduled for 7 p.m. today at Loch Raven High School, 1212 Cowpens Ave., Towson.

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