Audit McLean's Office

December 24, 1993

Anticipating early grand jury action in the widening probe into City Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's actions, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday asked members of the City Council to begin preparations for the comptroller's possible removal and to refrain from statements or conduct that might taint their quasi-judicial role in that process.

The McLean situation is so serious it warrants a prompt and comprehensive outside audit of the comptroller's office.

That office's books were last scrutinized by an outsider auditor -- Coopers & Lybrand -- in 1988, a year after ailing Hyman A. Pressman began his seventh and final term.

As the current city charter requires "a regular audit of the financial transactions of every municipal agency" only "at appropriate intervals," no formal review of the comptroller's office books was conducted even in 1991, when the power shifted to Ms. McLean. Astonishing but true.

Aside from a long overdue outside audit of the comptroller's office, a sweeping but thorough examination into all aspects of how Baltimore City conducts business is warranted. It ought to cover everything from procurement and purchasing to the way leases are negotiated and real estate transactions handled.

This is an opportune time to re-examine established practices, their logic and usefulness.

The charter revision commission's forthcoming recommendations provide a context, deadlines and process for the charter amendment's timely consideration and submission for voters' approval in the Nov. 1994 elections.

The charter commission, headed by retired Court of Appeals Judge Harry Cole, recommends that all city audits be made annually.

The panel also proposes that the city auditor's office be given the expanded power to "audit city contracts, grants, subgrants" and other agreements as well as "the expenditure of city-granted funds by any public or private agency that receives such funds."

This would bring within city auditors' reach the many state and federal grants which are channeled through the city but spent by multitude of municipal, non-profit or for-profit contractors.

Important though the charter is, it covers only a fraction of the city's governing structure. Much of the city's daily business is conducted through informal rules and practices developed over the years for reasons that may still be valid -- or have been long forgotten. Those practices also should be re-examined and changed where necessary.

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