Proposal would limit comptroller's power

December 18, 1993|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

The Baltimore comptroller's office should be stripped of its power over city real estate transactions and the purchase of insurance, according to a commission studying the structure of city government.

The proposal, offered in a draft report of a panel that has been studying the city charter for nearly three years, would limit the comptroller's role in city government mainly to the oversight of city audits.

The recommendations come as Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean is under fire for setting up a city contract that resulted in $15,000 being sent to the address of her sister's hair salon for public relations work that apparently was never done. Mrs. McLean also is under scrutiny amid reports that she steered a million-dollar city lease to a building she and her husband own.

The recommendations of the 11-member Baltimore City Charter Revision Commission were developed long before any hint of wrongdoing in the comptroller's office. But Mrs. McLean's problems could create momentum for narrowing the role of the post, the third most powerful elective job in city government.

"These proposals were contained in earlier drafts that were fairly widely circulated," Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said through a spokesman. "My assumption is that these proposals regarding the comptroller's office enjoy fairly strong support at the council level."

If adopted, the proposed changes would strip the comptroller's office of much of its remaining fiscal control. The major authority for the city's financial affairs shifted from the comptroller to the Department of Finance when the city charter was revised in 1964. The comptroller oversees matters related to the city's acquisition, sale or lease of property. The office also oversees some insurance purchases, although much of the city's insurance function is handled in the Department of Finance. In addition, the comptroller audits the city's financial transactions, oversees the city's harbor master and manages city government's internal post office and telephone exchange.

The comptroller sits on several boards, including the five-member Board of Estimates, a panel that approves most city contracts and sets city policy. In addition, the comptroller is secretary to the Board of Estimates, maintaining its minutes and accepting bid documents from private contractors.

Aside from recommending that the the comptroller's role be limited, the 370-page draft commission report recommends dozens of changes in the function of city government, some of which would further increase the mayor's power over city government.

Among the recommendations:

* Give the mayor power to hire and fire the school superintendent. But the mayor would have to appoint the superintendent from a list provided by the school board. Currently, the power to hire and fire the superintendent lies with the school board. The report also recommends eliminating the superintendent's right to a hearing before being fired.

* Retain a school board that is appointed by the mayor. Some people, including Council President Mary Pat Clarke, have called for an elected school board.

* Make the terms of office for members of most city boards and commissions coincide with the mayor's term in office.

* Make the fire chief the operational head of the Fire Department. Personnel and policy changes in the department now must be approved by the Fire Board, which the commission recommends be made an advisory body.

The commission's draft report is available for public inspection at City Hall and the Enoch Pratt Free Library. It also has been distributed to the mayor and City Council for review before a Jan. 5 public hearing.

The commission will issue a final report after the hearing, in hopes that the council could act on its recommendations before its summer recess.

The mayor then would review the recommendations approved by the council. If that timetable is met, any recommendations signed by the mayor would go before voters on the November 1994 ballot.

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