Artscape ruling is appealed More than $700,000 is at stake.

July 22, 1991|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Evening Sun Staff

Former officials of the city's annual Artscape festival have appealed a Baltimore Circuit Court decision ordering them to turn over $700,000 raised for the festival but withheld from the city for 3 1/2 years.

The defendants -- who raised the money when William Donald Schaefer was mayor -- filed the appeal with the Court of Special Appeals Friday.

On July 10, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard ruled that the Maryland Community Foundation, a private, non-profit organization directed by two of Gov. Schaefer's top aides, must turn over the money to the city to spend on the arts fair, which was held over the weekend.

Ambrose T. Hartman, deputy city solicitor, said of the appeal: "We will defend it with full vigor and have every reason to believe we will prevail."

He said it usually takes about six months before a case is heard and a decision is made by the Court of Special Appeals.

William A. McDaniel, lawyer for the former arts officials, could not JTC be reached for comment.

Hubbard's decision came after more than two years of wrangling between the administration of mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the former Artscape officials who are holding the money.

The money is gathering interest in several bank accounts controlled by the Maryland Community Foundation, whose directors are Schaefer aides Mark Wasserman and Jody Albright. Wasserman and Albright came up with the idea for the festival and ran it when Schaefer was mayor.

Shortly after Schmoke became mayor in December 1987, his administration discovered that the money was held in private bank accounts out of the city's reach. After Albright and other former Artscape officials refused to turn over the money, Schmoke instructed city lawyers to sue them.

The lawsuit claims that about half of the $700,000 is city government money and the rest came from private donation from corporations and individuals.

While refusing to turn over all the funds, the foundation gave the city two grants totaling $120,000 during the last three years. Artscape costs about $350,000 a year to run, according to city officials.

In the lawsuit, the former arts officials argued that Artscape was run by a private organization -- not the city government.

In her ruling, Hubbard noted that Albright raised the money in her position as a city official and used city government stationery, staff and services to raise the funds and run the annual July festival.

The judge also noted that city news releases proclaimed Artscape to be a "project of Mayor William Donald Schaefer's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture headed by Mrs. Jody Albright."

Consequently, Hubbard ruled, the Baltimore Arts Festival Inc., which held the money in private bank accounts, was in fact a city agency and that all the money collected was subject to city control.

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