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Webex Outage Leads Lawmakers to Suspend First Baltimore City Council Meeting Of The Year

Emily Sullivan/WYPR

Baltimore City council members were in the middle of introducing a slew of new legislation at their first virtual meeting of the year Monday when a robotic voice interrupted their proceedings: “The host has not yet arrived. Please stand by. ”

The voice was the harbinger of every lawmaker’s worst logistical nightmare during a virtual legislative session: a widespread Webex outage. The technical failure promptly booted the council off their video call. The members attempted to wait it out for more than half an hour before Council President Nick Mosby’s office announced the meeting would be suspended and resume Wednesday evening.

The outage interrupted a would-be bulldozer of a meeting, in which members were slated to introduce dozens of new pieces of legislation for the first time in the 73rd term of the Baltimore City Council. The legislative body, made up entirely of Democrats, met for the first time briefly last month as Mosby assigned members to restructured committees.  


The councilmembers did find time to introduce some legislation, however. 

Councilman Eric Costello, who represents Central Baltimore, introduced a bill to halve the amount of fees that third party delivery apps, such as Uber Eats and DoorDash, typically charge restaurants. 

The companies charge restaurants about a third of an order’s cost to deliver that order. The bill would cap the service fees the companies charge restaurants at 15% of the order cost and prevent delivery service providers from passing higher fees on to customers and gig workers.

City restaurants have had to rely on delivery and carry out orders since early December, when Mayor Brandon Scott suspended indoor and outdoor dining amid rising coronavirus rates. Scott, a Democrat, has said he will immediately sign Costello’s bill into law. 

Councilwoman Odette Ramos, a freshman representing North Baltimore, introduced a bill to create a monthly payment plan for homeowners who are behind on paying their taxes and liens in order to avoid their properties ending up on the city’s tax sale. 

The legislation assigns the payment plan program to the Department of Finance, while the Office of the Ombudsman would be responsible for overseeing the relationship between those in the program and the Department of Finance. The bill passed its first reading. 

Councilman Kristerfer Burnett of West Baltimore introduced legislation to create an Office of LGBTQ Affairs. 

Councilman Ryan Dorsey of Northeast Baltimore re-introduced a series of bills that passed in the council’s last term but were not signed by then-Mayor Jack Young. One bill orders a study on city employee parking benefits, while another ordered a study on the usage of city towing dispatch systems. 

Dorsey also reintroduced a prominent bill to create an Office to End Homelessness and a permanent housing voucher program.

The meeting ended about halfway through the council’s agenda, leaving out a series of bills in a prominent legislative package that addresses housing insecurity. The bills, as well as legislation ordering a hearing on water billing and the city’s COVID-19 vaccination plan, will be introduced Wednesday instead.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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