City closing Park Heights corporation Housing commissioner orders immediate audit

January 11, 1991|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,Evening Sun Staff

Responding to allegations of financial irregularities and rampant infighting, the city will shut down the Park Heights Community Corp. a week from today.

Robert W. Hearn, commissioner of the Department of Housing and Community Development, notified corporation officials in a letter yesterday that he had determined the northwest Baltimore corporation should be closed indefinitely, beginning next Friday. He listed these reasons:

"Resignation of board members, termination of the executive director, legal action being taken against the board by the past president and former executive director . . . The inability of the board to manage and provide direction to the executive director, the continued disruption and lack of control evident at public meetings, the lack of support on issues important to the neighborhoods . . ."

Hearn also ordered an immediate audit of the corporation. He directed officials of the organization to turn over to the city its checkbook, ledger, canceled checks and bank statements.

In addition, city State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms said he is looking into complaints about financial dealings within the corporation "to determine if a criminal investigation is warranted." He would not elaborate.

The corporation, which provides housing advice and other social services to the city's largest urban renewal area, receives $215,000 annually from the city in federal community development block grant money. That money pays the salaries of eight workers and the operating costs of the offices at 3939 Reisterstown Road.

The workers assist residents in obtaining help in a wide range of areas such as housing, sanitation, energy assistance and food.

City Council members Agnes Welch and Lawrence A. Bell, both D-4th, said yesterday they will make sure the residents somehow continue receiving the services.

"A lot of people need special attention there," Welch said. "It's like a little city."

The Park Heights Community Corp. serves a large swath of northwest Baltimore -- bounded on the north by Northern Parkway, the west by Wabash Avenue, the south by Chowan Avenue, and the east by Greenspring Avenue.

The situation within the corporation's board of directors is "a mess," said Bill Madison, who resigned from the board Jan. 1. "It became an unworkable situation."

And the situation between the board of directors, which is elected by the community, and the corporation's executive director, who is hired by the board of directors, is equally chaotic.

Isaiah C. Fletcher Sr., the executive director since August 1989, has accused one former board officer and one current board officer of "unethical if not criminal" financial dealings. Fletcher has asked the city as well as the state's attorney to investigate the allegations.

Fletcher said last night he agrees with the city's action.

"There's so much infighting [among board members] they can't do the work that's supposed to be done," he said.

In turn, the board of directors has voted three times to fire Fletcher. But each time he refused to go, claiming the votes were improper.

The board of directors last summer ousted its president, Timothy Mercer. Then Mercer sued the board to get his job back.

Mercer's successor lasted 5 1/2 months before resigning. The current president, Steven Ferguson, took office Jan. 3. Last night, he criticized both Fletcher and Mercer.

"But the real people to suffer," Ferguson said, "is the community."

Councilman Bell and Madison, the former board member, said the corporation may have to be restructured to survive or rebuilt altogether.

Bell suggested changing the bylaws so the board's directors are leaders of community organizations.

"The way it is now," he said, "community organizations are turned off by the Park Heights Community Corp."

Madison urged a complete overhaul. The corporation's reputation, he said, "is damaged so badly it could not be recovered."

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