Council unsure about giving up final say on union contracts


It remained unclear after yesterday's informal Anne Arundel County Council work session whether the council will turn over its final say in some contract disputes to a third-party arbiter Monday.

Under binding-arbitration legislation pending before the council, the members would relinquish their power to vote down any proposed contract with public safety unions. But Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks hinted yesterday that he might introduce an amendment to keep that power with the council.

Such an amendment would require support from four of the seven council members. Two members - Chairwoman Cathleen M. Vitale and Ronald C. Dillon Jr. - cannot vote on the issue because they have relatives who are public safety workers.

O'Brien Atkinson, the president of the Anne Arundel County Fraternal Order of Police, said yesterday that he doesn't believe Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican, has enough support for such an amendment to pass.

But even if the council did turn its power over to an arbiter, it could - at any time - pass emergency legislation to get it back, Atkinson and Middlebrooks agreed. Such legislation requires five votes to pass.

Constitutional questions

Union officials and council members agreed on one additional point at yesterday's meeting: They both wish the county's Office of Law had notified them sooner that there might be constitutional complications with the voter mandate to enact a binding arbitration law.

"I can't help feeling a little sandbagged here," said Keith W. Wright, the president of Anne Arundel County Professional Firefighters union.

The future of binding arbitration has become clouded in recent weeks. It appeared to be a settled issue after last fall's election, in which voters passed two charter amendments requiring that the council enact a binding arbitration law. The law is intended to settle prolonged contract disputes between the county and public safety unions.

But in responding last month to an inquiry from Middlebrooks, the county's Office of Law issued an opinion that the state constitution ensures the council can vote against any decision reached by an arbitrator. That came as a surprise to union leaders, who had long fought for such a law.

Revitalization bill

Also at yesterday's all-day session, Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle introduced legislation she hopes will boost revitalization efforts in several blighted commercial areas of northern Anne Arundel.

Beidle's proposal would allow vacant buildings to be transformed into self-storage facilities - as long as they meet several specific guidelines, including clauses that would prohibit outside doors and restrict the storage facility from expanding beyond the existing building.

It also would allow mixed commercial and residential development on these properties.

"I'm trying again," said Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat. "This opens the door [to fix] vacant, blighted, ugly sites."

Last year the council passed Beidle's initial effort that allowed several extra uses on designated properties, but it voted down the sections that would have allowed self-storage and residential growth.

Four council members voted against those sections last year, including Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. and John J. Klocko III. Klocko was killed in a car wreck Oct. 5. Klosterman was defeated in the last election.

Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, raised concerns yesterday that although these uses might work well on specific properties, they could be unwanted in some of the 15 areas targeted for revitalization.

"On many of these sites," Beidle responded, "anything's better than what's existing."

The bill will be formally introduced Monday and is scheduled for a vote April 7.

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