City Council members, who sometimes grumble about being in the backwater of city government compared to the mayor, last week put politics above policy and torpedoed a chance to take credit for something that could be popular with city residents.
Betty Ann Kane (D-At-Large), who is running for mayor, proposed that the council shift about $250,000 earmarked for unspent salaries to the city's recreation department. That money would have opened the city's 19 outdoor swimming pools for Memorial Day weekend and a couple of more weekends until school is out June 19, when the pools are scheduled to open full time.
The money also would have tacked on an extra week of swimming at the end of the summer season, carrying the pools through the traditional Labor Day conclusion.
"The real purpose is to serve the children," said council member Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8) at the council session.
"My objective is to open the pools," said John A. Wilson (D-Ward 2).
"We're sitting here knowing where the money is," said Kane, moments before the council by voice vote sank her proposal.
Unspoken was the political undercurrent that doomed Kane's idea, the fact that Barry was planning his own proposal to open the pools that would give him the political credit in this election year.
The council acted even though only one member, Polly Shackleton (D-Ward 3), spoke firmly against Kane's measure. But Shackleton is one of Barry's strongest supporters on the council.
Shackleton, chairman of the Human Services Committee, dismissed Kane's proposal, saying a recreation task force appointed by the mayor had ranked swimming pools fourth on an agenda said to be preferred by the recreation department. Hiring more staff and doing maintenance were more important, Shackleton said of the task force's recommendations.
By heading off Kane--"running her back to the woods," as one high official put it--the council left the door open for Barry, who has decided to propose virtually the same thing for the pools.
"It was political," Kane said later in the week. "They just didn't want me to take credit for it."
Some council members and staffers agreed, saying it was part mayoral politics and part peevishness with Kane, who has iritated some who believe she is too quick to issue press releases critical of the council or claiming credit for her actions.
Told late in the week that Barry was planning his own pool proposal, Kane said, "I don't care who gets the credit. I'm satisfied that nothing would have been done if I hadn't spoken up."
So, the political credit will go to Barry while the City Council has created a record for itself of opposing the extra swim time for residents.
Lost in the wake will be the fact that it was the mayor's original budget that had funded the abbreviated swimming season in the first place.
ABSENT--Several City Council staff members were surprised last week when Council Chairman Arrington Dixon allowed the council's assistant secretary to be upbraided during the session by council member H. R. Crawford.
It was a minor tiff in the four-hour meeting, but the staffers thought Melvin Boffman, who is new to the council, was unfairly treated.
Crawford (D-Ward 7), who left the session for a noontime speech and missed two roll call votes, startled many people in the council chambers when he returned and publicly criticized Boffman's handling of the roll call votes.
Boffman had dutifully called out Crawford's name as "absent," along with Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4), who also was gone during the votes on a bill to allow police officers to take part-time security jobs and wear their police uniforms.
Crawford angrily said the clerk was wrong to announce names and should have just given the numerical tally. Crawford admonished him not to do it again.
The only problem was the clerk had done no wrong.
There's no rule against announcing the names of those who are absent during a roll call vote. Several staffers felt Dixon should not have allowed the clerk to be publicly embarrassed.
An aide to Dixon said later that the council chairman had spoken privately to Crawford after the session.