The Annapolis City Council settled a prolonged dispute between a community activist and a major Anne Arundel County nonprofit Monday night by taking away city-owned office space from a third group and awarding it to the activist.
Shirley Gordon, founder of the community support services Street Angels Project, will be returning to Stanton Community Center, but she said the pyrrhic victory comes only after she made repeated public information requests and threatened to sue the city for civil rights violations.
“It was definitely a team effort,” Gordon said Tuesday, relieved that the City Council unanimously approved the legislation authorizing her lease Monday night.
Gordon will pay $1 for a year’s lease and use the space to run her grassroots campaign to prevent drug overdoses and assist residents recovering from substance abuse.
Since founding Street Angels Project in 2015, Gordon largely has been running the organization out of her house. Prior to the pandemic, she participated in a city-run event called Wellness Wednesdays at the Stanton Center. After the center reopened last year, she received permission from center manager Chris Beck to use space in the building normally reserved for the Anne Arundel County Community Action Agency. On her first day in the office last October, some shelving fell on her head, and she sought medical attention at an urgent care center.
Ever since, Gordon said, employees from Community Action Agency forbade her from using her office, even though she had permission from the city to be there.
Roxanne McGowan, director of community impact and outreach for Community Action Agency, did not return a request seeking comment. The organization offers a variety of services throughout the county, maintains two other offices and has annual revenues of nearly $5 million, according to public tax records.
In June, the city attempted to lease the office to Gordon, but the Community Action Agency raised objections and both leases were pulled from the council agenda at the last minute. The council instead awarded leases to four other organizations: Annapolis Arts District Inc., Luminis Health, Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation and We Care and Friends.
The city remained committed to finding space for Gordon, the city manager stated in July.
Via email, Gordon requested a mediation session with Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, a Democrat from Ward 4, and Charlestine Fairley, the CEO of Community Action Agency. In an email dated Aug. 27, Finlayson said she would only attend the meeting if City Attorney Michael Lyles was present.
“This is a legal issue,” Finlayson wrote.
At that point, Gordon says she sought legal counsel.
Ultimately, it was City Manager Michael Mallinoff, Mayor Gavin Buckley and Ward 2 Alderwoman Karma O’Neill who deescalated the situation. The trio toured the building two weeks ago, Mallinoff said, and asked Erik Evans, executive director of Annapolis Arts District Inc., to give up its office in the Stanton Center.
“I did what we thought was best for the community,” Evans said. He retains storage space for art materials at the Stanton Center, where the nonprofit coordinates activities for kids and may use a shared conference room for meetings. “The staff at the Stanton Center has been very accommodating.”
That issue settled, the all-Democratic council put the Stanton Center leases back on its agenda and voted Monday night. At the request of O’Neill and Ward 1 Alderwoman Elly Tierney, the council opted to suspend the rules, which typically require a bill to first be reviewed by council committees, to approve the leases at the same meeting they were introduced.
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Both leases passed unanimously.
Council appointed Lyn Farrow to the Arts in Public Places Commission, Robert Hector III to the Board of Appeals and Phillip Chambers to the Ethics Commission. Farrow previously served as assistant city manager from July 2019 to December 2021.
The council voted to create a task force that will look at potential changes to how local elections are run in Annapolis, including possibly changing the schedule to align with county, state and national elections. The meeting also included a public hearing on expanding the city’s Board of Elections from three to five members. Debbie Yatzuk, the only Republican on the board, spoke in favor of both the task force and the expansion. “It’s only three people right now, which limits what we can do,” Yatzuk said.
The election board expansion will likely come up for a final vote in October.
Representatives from three construction labor unions testified in support of legislation that would require certain capital projects to pay prevailing wages. Resident Allen Furth, a contractor, spoke against the proposal, calling it, “a solution without a problem” because federal regulations already require municipal projects involving federal dollars to pay prevailing wages. Furth said the additional requirements would require extra enforcement work and could drive up construction costs for the city.
The measure will also come before the council for a final vote next month.
The council unanimously voted to convert two small parcels of city-owned land into mini parks, one on Tolson Street and one on Tucker Street. Both parks abut Weems Creek. The move allows the city to upgrade amenities, such as benches and trash cans, and improve waterfront access in Ward 2.