The Artscape appeal

July 23, 1991

The legal challenge to the decision that returns $700,000 of Artscape money to Baltimore city gives new depth to the meaning of the word audacious.

Last week, Judge Mabel Houze Hubbard ruled that the money, which has been hoarded for years in private bank accounts outside the city's jurisdiction was, as the city had claimed, city money. Hubbard noted what has been obvious from the start -- that the corporation, which raised money for Artscape when William Donald Schaefer was mayor, was formed by the city and received city funds and that the people who ran it were paid by the city and even solicited money for Artscape using city stationery, city staff and city services. Nonetheless, when Schaefer was elected governor, he took with him his director of arts and culture, Jody Albright, who ran Artscape. The money raised for the event, instead of remaining in Baltimore's coffers, went with them to Annapolis where it was stashed in bank accounts controlled by the Maryland Community Foundation -- headed, by no coincidence, by Albright and Schaefer aide Mark Wasserman.

For years, the foundation's ostensible argument has been that the money didn't belong to the city. But from the start, it also expressed a clear distrust in the Schmoke administration's ability to handle the funds properly. We suspect that this sentiment motivates the appeal in large part, though there seems an almost palpable personal dimension to this fight as well.

Judge Hubbard ruled that the cost of a lawsuit could not be paid for out of money designated for Artscape. That means the defendants will have to raise money specifically to fight the city, pay the legal fees out of their own pockets or have the work done pro bono. As for the city, the appeal will soak up a lot of time and tax money that should be put to better use.

Governor Schaefer, for whom Albright and Wasserman work, is not without influence in this matter. He could use his clout to prod the defendants to stop this appeal: His avowed commitment to Baltimore city and his own role in this mess surely warrant it.

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