One of Baltimore's largest community groups is threatening to evict a municipal agency from its headquarters after city workers came there Thursday and changed locks, moved furniture and commandeered additional office space.
Lois A. Garey, executive director of the HARBEL community group, compared the city's methods to "Gestapo tactics," and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke accused the city of "fiscal thuggery."
The confrontation grows out of a months-old dispute between the city Department of Housing and Community Development and officials of HARBEL, which includes 92 community associations in Northeast Baltimore and nearby sections of Baltimore County. HARBEL runs a variety of social service and community programs from the center, which it leases from the city.
At issue is the use of office space in a multipurpose center at Harford Road and White Avenue. Since 1989, HARBEL has leased the building from the city for $1 a year while footing all of the building's operating costs and providing the city with 770 square feet of office space.
The city moved to change that arrangement last summer. It neededmore space at the center because of the merger of the city's mayor's stations with the Urban Services Agency. HARBEL agreed to provide the additional space but was rebuffed when it suggested that the city pick up a share of the center's $53,000 annual operating costs.
With the talks apparently at an impasse, city workers began moving furniture, changing locks and ripping out bulletin boards Thursday.
"Is this the way city government treats a community group, by coming in here with what was likened to Gestapo tactics and taking over?" Ms. Garey said.
Mrs. Clarke called the city's position "penny wise and pound foolish. It is fiscal thuggery."
Daniel P. Henson III, the city's housing commissioner, said he thought the issue had been resolved in July, saying, "We shook hands on a deal." The city should not have to pay anything to HARBEL, he said, adding, "Why should the city pay rent for its own building?"
In a letter to Mr. Henson Thursday, Dennis W. King, president of HARBEL's board, threatened to begin eviction proceedings if the city did not move out of the space it had occupied.