Do it now! That's our advice to Jody Albright, who has been ordered to return more than $700,000 in Artscape funds to the city government. She has 30 days to appeal Circuit Court Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard's ruling, but Mrs. Albright will look mighty silly if she does.
The whole dispute over Artscape funds defies logic. It has dragged this long because its roots lie in childish pique and political bitterness. The sooner this squabble is over, the better.
Artscape started as a feel-good festival a decade ago, when William Donald Schaefer was mayor of Baltimore. It was an instant success, a delightful street happening outside the Maryland Institute of Art on Mount Royal Avenue. As the festival became an annual weekend event, it was headquartered in city office space. It used city stationery. It received funds from the city budget to supplement private money raised by Mrs. Albright and her volunteers.
Four years ago, when Mr. Schaefer was elected governor, Mrs. Albright left Artscape to go to Annapolis as his aide. Not wanting to turn the Artscape kitty over to the Schmoke administration -- which neither she nor the new governor liked -- she took the money and created Maryland Community Foundation, an ostensibly private, non-profit organization, to administer it.
To get the funds back, the Schmoke administration took Mrs. Albright's foundation to court. Judge Hubbard has now spoken in a way that leaves no doubt that the money belongs to the city.
This sordid affair reflects badly on Mrs. Albright and Mark L. Wasserman, Governor Schaefer's executive assistant. Not only did the two fight the city's legitimate demands but they chose a name for their organization that can only be described as misleading. Community foundations exist all over this country as invaluable instruments through which donors can ensure that their gifts are properly administered and channeled to worthy causes of public interest. By using such a name, Mrs. Albright tried to lend credibility to her organization, credibility that it never deserved.