Speaking on WEAA 88.9 FM yesterday, City Councilman Carl Stokes unleashed a fusillade of accusations about his fellow Council members, saying he feared they would engage in a “coverup” of the burgeoning speed camera scandal.
“I am concerned about a whitewash. I am concerned that certain parties in the City Council will take this investigation and bury the real facts. . . I am concerned that they are trying to bury this,” Stokes said, speaking on the Marc Steiner Show.
Taking umbrage, Councilmen Nick Mosby and James B. Kraft rose at last night’s City Council meeting to object to Stokes’ harsh words.
Beginning his remarks by referencing the deadly violence in the city, in particular the 51-year-old woman stabbed to death in Highlandtown last week, Kraft said, “We’ve got to get control of this city. . . We’ve got to get people to have trust in their city government.
“It does not help us when members of this body go on the radio and allege that members of this body are corrupt, not doing their duty or have knowledge they aren’t sharing,” Kraft added.
Mosby also complained about Stokes’ radio comments and argued that the city was doing a better job of increasing transparency (“we continue to drive toward that”).
“This body will get to the bottom of the answers,” said Mosby. He told The Brew after the meeting that Stokes was “way out of line.”
“Sick of Corrupt Lying”
But Stokes expressed deep skepticism that City Hall would ever uncover the full story, citing what happened around speed cameras at the previous Council meeting.
Stokes could not get the super-majority he needed – 12 votes – to suspend the Council’s rules and immediately have the investigation conducted by his Taxation, Finance and Economic Development Committee. Instead by a vote of 8-7, they assigned the task to Kraft’s Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee.
“I know better – I sat there last Monday night,” Stoles said bitterly at the start of his most passionate comment on the hour-long radio show, which also featured Mosby and Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke.
STOKES: “I think something else is going on here. I think there is a possibility of criminal action.”
Stokes appeared irritated when Mosby suggested that the process underway was transparent. But what really set him off was when Clarke had cautioned him to temper his remarks about Council colleagues.
“At this particular moment in history, I think it’s very important for us in the City Council to close ranks and stand together to get for our citizens what they deserve,” Clarke said. “So I hear what you’re saying, Carl, but I don’t think it’s the way to start a discussion.”
“I sat there last Monday night. I know better. I know it’s tough to say people are liars. It’s tough to say people are corrupt and I know you hate the sound of it – I know you do – but I’m sick of corrupt, lying sons of guns doing this to the citizens of the city. I’m sick of neighborhoods that you represent, that I represent, that Nick represents, getting flipped off . . . getting screwed around by people who don’t care.
“I know it’s tough to say somebody lied, when they may be sitting next to you on the City Council floor. I understand that. But that’s how we all go down. That’s how you lose a nation, a city or a state. I know I’m being dramatic, but, dammit, people are sick of this.”
The flaring emotions are a sign that the Council is feeling heat that citizens are directing not just at the administration of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, but at them.
“I go to barbershops, hair salons, the A&P. . . churches, synagogues, temples we go to these places they’re black people, they’re white people, they’re Latino people, that are just grabbing me,” Stokes said.
“I can’t eat breakfast in the morning without someone coming over to the table talking about what’s going on with the cameras, and not just the cameras,” he continued, going on to mention water bills and tax breaks
“It’s just the lack of transparency in city government.”
All three Council members agreed that citizens are incensed about the issue and that they all know people who have received speed camera tickets and were upset about it.
“Me too, I’m one of them,” said Clarke.
“I paid six,” added Stokes.
Is Nobody to Blame?
Heat has also been coming from the media, yesterday morning represented by Steiner. The issue of blame – and whether and how to assess it on city officials – came up repeatedly on the show.
“Now it’s coming to the forefront,” Mosby said, “I think it’s great we’ll have the details, we’ll know the details, the citizens will know that at the end of the day that folks are fighting for transparency.”
“Let’s just talk about what we need,” Clarke said. “Let’s depersonalize this.”
Steiner pressed on.
“It has to go to somebody’s doorstep,” the radio host said. (“Right now, it’s on ours, according to our colleague Councilman Stokes,” Clarke said drily, sotto voce.)
“Someone has to take responsibility that $2.8 million left the city budget to pay companies that didn’t do an effective job, that people got cheated out of a lot of money, perhaps $2 million more, for [speeding] tickets they didn’t really do,” Steiner continued.
“Doesn’t this also go to issue of why the Council couldn’t come together to figure out how to create an audit system for this city that might be transparent, that could tell us where our money is going?” Steiner asked.
The question sent Mosby onto the subject of audits. “A financial audit of DOT might not have turned up these problems, but a performance audit would have,” he pointed out.
Stokes then brought the discussion back to the speeding camera issue.
“The red light cameras are, were, a scam. Everybody should get their money back, even if there were a legitimate ticket,” he said.
“I don’t even know if they were inaccurate as a matter of calibration or whether someone intentionally just started stealing from citizens,” Stokes said. “I think something else is going on here. I think there is a possibility of criminal action. I didn’t want to go there but certainly people have made statements when they had in their hands the truth – that’s a cover-up.”
A Caller’s Last Words
Stokes said at the end of the show, “I hope I didn’t impugn anyone,” but a caller named “Leo” who had watched last week’s Council vote, said he was quite ready to impugn the integrity of Council members.
“The Council [is] divided along racial lines. The only white person who supported Carl Stokes was Mary Pat Clarke,” Leo said.
“They’re circling the wagons. . . and they’re trying to block progress and justice. . . It is a disgrace. The buck stops with the mayor and, of course, Governor Martin O’Malley has her back.”