GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
Part II of this week’s council and election coverage.
The council is on August recess. At the last summer meeting July 27, Stewart followed up on her community/police relations campaign issue. A number of police-equipment purchases were on the agenda. Getting emotional at times (campaign dramatics?) she questioned the purchase of police cars. Not so much the cars, but the paint jobs. She’s raised this before, but despite backup from council member Terry Seamens, can’t break through the barricades chief Alan Goldberg piles in front of him.
The cars are black with dark lettering. Chief Goldberg inexplicably claims this color scheme is “more visible.” Especially at night. Because of the reflections.
Before anyone can say “that makes no sense at all” he piles up another barricade. “Everyone” is going to darker police-car color schemes. Baltimore, for example. He says this fatalistically. Like, that’s the way it’s going. Nothing we can do about it. We’re stuck with that. Go away, now.
Inside, we suspect the chief and all the officers are thinking “NOOOOO! DON’T TAKE AWAY OUR BATMOBILES!”
Here’s looking at you
Speaking of possible campaign dramatics. We noted with raised eyebrows Elizabeth Wallace’s probing questions and emotional remarks at the July 27 meeting, at one point defying the three-minute limitation on public comments. The 2013 unsuccessful mayoral candidate just happened to attend the first meeting following Mayor Bruce William’s announcement that he’s not running this fall.
Normally the council and staff do not respond to questions asked during public comment period. They reluctantly responded to Wallace at first, but clammed up when they saw she was taking the conversation into difficult topics.
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Wallace was concerned about the purchase of new police cars, and the practice of letting officers use the cars on off-hours. She cited one officer who last March, she said, struck a deer in Howard County while driving home in a police vehicle.
“Was the car totaled – and how’s the deer?” she asked.
She wanted to know how many of the new cars would be available for “private use” by police officers, how much the practice costs the city and whether the city pays for the gas.
Elizabeth Wallace questions the city council, July 27.
City manager Susan Ludlow defended the practice as a standard employment perk. She didn’t know offhand the number of cars available for take-home use, but offered to get back to her with the figure. The city, she said, does pay for the gas.
Councilmemeber Seth Grimes said it aided in retention of officers.
“Retention of police officers like Travis Ala?” shot back Wallace. Travis Ala, recently indicted for a road-rage incident, was involved in a deadly Ann Arundel County accident last March. The Takoma Park police officer was off duty, commuting home in a city police car. He is now suspended from the police department without pay. Mentioning his name seemed to sour the council and staff.
“If they weren’t living so far away,” said Wallace, “maybe they wouldn’t need the vehicles to commute.”
“I see a lot of mouths that are very tight.” observed Wallace after a long silence during which the three-minute time limit bell sounded.
“This is a time for public comment.” replied the mayor – I.e. not questions and answers.
“You and I don’t get along,” said Wallace to the mayor, getting riled “I have the right to be here, and I don’t care if the three minutes is up.”
“If my comments are in the form of questions that can’t be answered, perhaps they are actually rhetorical questions,” said Wallace.
All over the country people are questioning police practices, said Wallace, and “it takes a lot of freakin’ guts for me to ask _this_. And for me to look at you and [see] the way you’re looking at me, it’s even scarier.”
So, could this be the opening of a council or mayoral campaign?
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