If Baltimore is to remain financially healthy, it will take a strong and aggressive city comptroller to watch over municipal monetary affairs. Hyman A. Pressman, who is retiring after 28 years, was vigilant in his early years before he slowed down and lapsed into an ineffective routine. On Sept. 12, Democrats have a chance to rejuvenate that important office by nominating Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III to the No. 3 job in city government.
In considering the three candidates, The Sun came to the conclusion that while Mary W. Conaway, the register of wills, might learn to do the job properly, she lacks the basic qualifications for the comptroller's office and still has no grasp of what the job entails.
In contrast, Jacqueline McLean, a two-term city councilwoman, understands city government and has a proven record as a successful business owner. She has interesting ideas on how to fTC improve municipal finances. For example, she thinks that churches and other untaxed organizations should pay fees in lieu of property taxes. She also thinks the city should consider a two-tiered property tax structure to encourage the liquidation and improvement of residential and commercial properties that currently are boarded up or underused.
But it is Mr. Landers who has the most impressive plan to revamp the comptroller's office, which audits city agencies, oversees the city's real estate holdings and insures city property. The comptroller also is a member of the Board of Estimates and sits on the boards of all municipal pension systems.
A two-term councilman, Mr. Landers says that the annual fiscal audits of municipal departments are not enough, that agencies should be regularly rated for performance. He explains: "In order to stretch our limited resources, we need to know how well agencies are performing -- what is the quantity, and even more importantly the quality of the service being delivered?"
The next comptroller, according to Mr. Landers, should scrutinize the use of all city owned properties. "Any piece of property which is not being put to a productive or beneficial use is a waste of a valuable asset and increases the burden which tax-paying properties must bear," he says. "Those properties are the same as a portfolio of stocks."
Mr. Landers' background is well suited for the office. He has a degree in business administration and has worked as a real estate agent. He knows the problems of neighborhoods from his years as the executive director of one of the largest community organizations in Northeast Baltimore.
Troubled cities like Newark, N.J., have seen their fiscal problems exacerbated by their inability or failure to collect taxes and government fees. That situation may well exist in Baltimore. It is a problem that could be detected through performance audits, as Mr. Landers has proposed. The Sun is convinced that Jody Landers' serious and systematic approach is needed in city government. He has our endorsement.