McLean Should Step Aside

December 20, 1993

The city charter decrees that Baltimore's chief elected fiscal officer must be "a person of known integrity, experience and sound judgment."

City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean is now surrounded by so many serious allegations that we call for her to step aside voluntarily until the grand jury and ethics probes into her official actions are completed. Failing that, the mayor and the City Council should relieve her temporarily.

We are not trying to prejudge Ms. McLean's guilt or innocence. But her job is so sensitive that the city could suffer serious harm -- from lowered bond ratings to a loss of public faith -- unless she excuses herself from her management and oversight duties and places herself on leave.

Because of the way she interacted with fellow top city officials in the handling of two contracts involving her, Ms. McLean's credibility as a member of the Board of Estimates and keeper of its records is clouded. Until this matter is cleared, her duties ought to be performed by someone else.

The city charter designates the deputy comptroller to stand in "in case of temporary absence or disqualification of the comptroller." This, as a stopgap measure, is now desirable.

Any more drastic action is unlikely to happen until there is a resolution to the ethical and legal questions. Under the charter, the mayor has the authority to bring charges against the comptroller. Once Ms. McLean is afforded an opportunity for a hearing, the City Council can fire her by a majority vote for "incompetency, willful neglect of duty or misdemeanor in office."

The McLean affair is tragic. It painfully demonstrates human failings in positions of trust. It also exposes the behavior of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke and shows how their unconcealed hostility and open rivalry can hurt the whole city.

When she learned about irregularities in a lease agreement that involved a property owned by the McLean family, Ms. Clarke, the Board of Estimates president, verbally informed a mayoral aide. However, she acknowledges she never personally communicated about the problem with either the mayor or Neal Janey, the city's chief law officer. Yet she maintains, "I have done my due diligence."

The mayor looks equally bad. Apparently because of sloppy staff work, the problematic lease agreement was allowed to linger on the books for nearly a month before it was rescinded. A failed effort to get Baltimore an NFL franchise seemed to concern the administration more than a possibly fraudulent contract involving the city comptroller.

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