Artscape money remains in limbo

October 19, 1990|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Evening Sun Staff

Eighteen months ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sued former Artscape officials to obtain $700,000 raised for the city's summer festival when William Donald Schaefer was mayor.

The city filed the lawsuit after a non-profit group refused a Schmoke administration request for the money. At the time, a frustrated Schmoke, said legal action was necessary to force the non-profit group to give the money to the city.

A year ago, the city filed a motion for summary judgment, asking Circuit Court Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard to award the money to the city. Today, the city still awaits a decision by the judge.

Hubbard has not returned a reporter's telephone calls. A clerk in her office said the judge has been working on a ruling, but the clerk did not know when it would be completed.

"There's no explanation why it [the motion] is being held up," Schmoke said. "I don't know why it's taken so long. We're still obviously not pleased with the situation."

The city has run the arts festival for the last three years with an annual infusion of private money and public funds from the city and state.

This year, according to officials, the city spent $160,000 and the state kicked in another $33,000. The rest of the festival's $300,000 budget was raised from private donors.

Ambrose T. Hartman, deputy city solicitor, who has been a lawyer for nearly 40 years, said: "I don't know why it's taking so long. It's the longest I've waited for an opinion."

In early motions filed in the case, city lawyers claimed that $300,000 of the money being held is actually city operating funds. The rest, they said, is private money raised from corporations for the festival.

The city has been unable to obtain any of the money because it has been kept in bank accounts controlled by private non-profit corporations. Asserting that the money was raised strictly for the festival, the former Artscape officials deny that any city money is being withheld. But they have not told the city why they refuse to turn over the money.

Schmoke attributes the impasse to the stormy political relationship that exists between himself and the governor. They have not seen eye-to-eye since Schmoke supported Stephen Sachs in the 1986 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The money is currently being held by the Maryland Community Foundation Inc. The foundation's president is Mark Wasserman, Governor Schaefer's executive chief for administration.

Jody Albright, now director of the Governor's Office of Art and Culture, is the foundation's vice president. Artscape was her idea and she ran it while Schaefer was mayor.

Wasserman and Albright have not returned a reporter's calls to discuss the money.

Meanwhile, the money continues to collect interest in various bank accounts, according to court records. According to a 1989 IRS statement, the funds collected more than $60,000 in interest that year.

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