Artscape ex-official releases $80,000 Despite grant, city's lawsuit still in limbo.

April 09, 1991|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Evening Sun Staff

The city has received $80,000 from former Artscape officials who had refused to turn over more than a half-million dollars raised by the previous city administration for the annual arts festival.

However, the rest of the money remains in bank accounts out of the city's reach.

A city attorney received the $80,000 recently from the former Artscape officials after requesting the funds to defray costs for this year's upcoming summer Artscape festival. The transfer is being called a "grant."

Two years ago, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke filed a lawsuit to obtain the money raised for Artscape when William Donald Schaefer was mayor.

But the lawsuit is in limbo because a Baltimore Circuit Court judge has yet to rule on a crucial motion.

About 18 months ago, the city filed a motion of summary judgment in the case, asking for the money to be awarded to the city. But Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard has failed to rule on the motion, preventing the lawsuit from going forward and leaving the money -- now estimated by city officials at between $700,000 and $800,000 -- in frozen accounts.

Deputy City Solicitor Ambrose T. Hartman says he received the $80,000 after writing to attorney William A. McDaniel, who represents Jody Albright, the former city official who created Artscape when Schaefer was mayor.

Hartman also has written a letter to Hubbard, "urgently" asking her to make a ruling in the case and pointing out that the city is still waiting for a decision on a court hearing from Oct. 20, 1989.

"We are all aware, of course, of the financial straits of the city economy, generally, and particularly of city government," Hartman wrote on March 28.

"The long-term survival of [Artscape] may depend upon it obtaining possession of the funds now held by the defendants which are the subject of the suit."

Yesterday, Schmoke said he was pleased with the $80,000 grant. But he said the judge's inaction "is a good example of justice delayed is justice denied."

"There is no reason for the delay," the mayor said. "It's troublesome . . . it just appears the parties are being denied a decision for no good reason.

Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan, administrative judge of the Circuit Court, refers to Hubbard as a "slow decider" and says "she's doing the best she can.

The money that Albright and other former Artscape officials have refused to turn over to the Schmoke administration is being kept out of the city's reach in private accounts controlled by a non-profit corporation called the Maryland Community Foundation.

The foundation's president is Mark Wasserman, Schaefer's executive chief for administration. Its vice president is Albright, now director of the Governor's Office of Art and Culture.

Yesterday, the foundation released a statement explaining that the $80,000 grant was made after the city requested the interest from the accounts to "defray $79,925 in expenses for 'physical arrangements' for the upcoming arts festival."

"Maryland Community Foundation responded by making a grant in the amount of $80,000, thus fully meeting the city's stated need for funds, plus a little more," said the statement, which added that the $80,000 exceeded the interest earned on the Artscape funds.

McDaniel, the foundation's lawyer, said he did not know how much money is in the Artscape accounts or how much interest they have collected.

The foundation's statement also said the $80,000 grant is consistent with the previous Artscape officials' contention that the funds were meant to be an endowment.

"[Maryland Community Foundation's] grant to the city is perfectly consistent with that purpose, by funding the city's specific needs for Artscape 1991."

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

The former officials have denied that any of the money is government funds. They previously had turned over only $40,000 in 1988 to the Schmoke administration.

In legal motions they have refused to say why they will not turn over the rest, although they agree that the money should be used only for the arts festival.

Schmoke has attributed the impasse to the stormy political relationship between himself and Schaefer.

Meanwhile, the city is planning its fourth summer Artscape festival without the benefit of all the funds.

Clair Z. List, Schmoke's director of art and culture, says this year's festival will cost about $350,000. She already has raised $100,000 in private money for the event. She says she also expects some city funds for the festival, but does not know how much.

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