Open Letter to Mayor Martin O'Malley
TO: Mayor Martin O'Malley
RE: Lawlessness of Expanding Development Trade
FROM: Ward Eisinger, President, Remington Neighborhood Alliance
Dear Mr. Mayor:
I want to thank you, Mr. Al Barry III, Mr. David Tanner, Ms. Sandra Gutman, Mr. Earl Armiger and Mr. Sandy Marenberg for teaching me two fundamental lessons about life in Baltimore:
Lesson 1: He who dares to take the law into their own hands, takes power unto themselves, and the "powerful" win. This is true in the drug trade and it is true in the development trade.
Lesson 2: Trying to intervene to protect and defend yourself, your family, your community or the rights of individuals against the lawless behavior of the “powerful” is futile. This too is shown to be true for the development trade as well as the drug trade in Baltimore’s “inner” communities.
I recently wrote to you regarding the construction work that has been occurring illegally on the a lot on the 2800 block of Cresmont Avenue controlled by the development team of Orchard Development and Marenberg Enterprise. I am now writing to let you know that the neighboring property owners/residents/citizens have received a belated response from Ms. Gutman, of the Law Department, to a query they submitted several weeks ago. Ms. Gutman was asked why the City was not compelled to enforce the mandatory stay on work that the City Charter seems to be referring to in the following section:
Baltimore City Charter, Article VII, "Executive Departments"
Section 88, Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals: judicial review (full text):
"If any person, including the City and the Planning Commission, feeling aggrieved by any decision of the Board within thirty days of a decision by the Board, appeals therefrom to the Baltimore City Circuit Court, the Board shall forthwith transmit all papers, or copies thereof, to the court, certified by its executive secretary.
"An appeal shall stay all proceedings in furtherance of the action appealed from. But whenever, in the opinion of the Board, such stay would cause imminent peril to life or property, or serious public inconvenience, it may ask the Circuit Court for an order vacating such stay. From the findings of the Circuit Court in such cases, there shall be such appeal, if any, as may be permitted by law."
Ms Gutman's stale response apparently states that the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals (BMZA) may enforce the stay at their discretion. I am clearly a lay reader of the City Charter since I am unable to interpret it to read that the BMZA has any choice but to enforce a stay on all work relating to the BMZA's decision once it has been appealed to the Circuit Court. Further, it says that the BMZA must act by appealing to the Circuit Court to have the stay lifted. There is no language to indicate an elective or voluntary nature to the stay.
Ms. Gutman's reading of the Charter certainly undermines any protection under the law for Baltimore citizens seeking relief from illegal actions of City agencies such as the Department of Planning, Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), the Law Department and the BMZA (all under the Executive Branch, the Mayor, you) that they might hope and BELIEVE they have.
If we accept Ms. Gutman's reading of the law, your appointee, county resident and Executive Secretary of the BMZA, Mr. David Tanner, can choose to enforce a stay on appealed BMZA decisions (decisions he is personally invested in) at his own discretion. This is a mindnumbingly irresponsible reading of law that is meant to protect Baltimore citizens and it opens the door wide for corruption and abuse since it permits Mr. Tanner, the City (The Executive Branch) and developers to do an end-run around the Judiciary and build their projects while the citizens of Baltimore are forced to wait for their opportunity have their rights defended in court.
(I refuse to accept Ms. Gutman's (and by extension, The Law Department's/Executive Branch's) nonsensical, self-serving reading of the law and will continue to refer to the City's actions and the ongoing construction as illegal until the Judiciary settles the matter.)
What is most offensive in Ms. Gutman's interpretation is that it permits Ms. Gutman and Mr. Tanner to defy Judge Hammerman's ruling of October 31, 2001 that their earlier efforts on this matter, with regards to this property, were not legal. In other words Baltimore's Executive Branch is defying the built in checks and balances of the American system of government by refusing to be bound by an earlier ruling of the Judiciary.
The Executive Branch is now actively working to protect and promote illegal work being performed under a contested permit to enable out of town developers to also defy the law in Baltimore over the objection of citizens of Baltimore.
The development team has flaunted the law time and again with the blessing and protection of the Executive Branch. They have defied the law and taken power unto themselves with the blessings of your office, and you tell me that you cannot intervene to stop the madness. I am learning my lesson about how and why Baltimore is a lawless town from the inner city corner to the very halls of power.
When Ms. Joan Floyd, in an article in the Baltimore Chronicle, recently outlined the injustices she and her neighbors were facing at the hands of the City working with powerful development interests she and her husband were verbally attacked. They were attacked by Mr. Al Barry III: a man who has ties to you and your campaign. Ms. Floyd and her husband were attacked [in Barry's response to Floyd's article] because they dared to speak out against illegal acts of the City and others. They were attacked because they dare to fight for their rights and the rights of their neighbors and their community. The attacks are verbal but they are malicious and hurtful with the intent to punish, intimidate and discredit, if not silence, Ms. Floyd, her husband and their neighbors.
I watch and, as that anniversary approaches, I am reminded of what became of another family who dared to speak out against those who flagrantly violated the law in their neighborhood. They were silenced and the rest of us learned a hard lesson about speaking out. While the punishments are not as harsh, I am learning that the same lesson applies to speaking out against the lawlessness of Developers and City agencies as well as the dealers on the corners.
I thank you and the entire Executive Branch for being so willing to dole out these lessons, especially to those of us who are slow learners.
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This story was published on October 3, 2003.
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