Council seeks to oversee privatization efforts

May 17, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Amid a growing chorus of complaints about Baltimore's bold experiment in school privatization, the City Council renewed last night an attempt to regulate turning over municipal services to outside companies.

The council overwhelmingly approved a measure that would amend the city charter and set up a watchdog office that would oversee privatization efforts.

Under the proposal, which must be approved by voters, the city would be required to demonstrate significant savings by hiring a private company to provide municipal services. The city also would have to advertise contracts and check on the companies' performance through an advisory committee and "Office of Contract Compliance."

"Just because it's an outside contractor doesn't mean we're getting it cheaper," said council President Mary Pat Clarke.

Last year, the council unanimously approved creating the same regulations, but the mayor did not sign it into law.

The City Union of Baltimore promptly sued to challenge Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's right to a so-called pocket veto. The union contends that under the city charter, the mayor cannot veto a bill simply by failing to sign it.

"What we're saying is we need to review these contracts," said Cheryl D. Glenn, president of the union that represents 7,000 municipal workers. "You shouldn't arbitrarily contract out services. You need to know if it will save a great deal of money."

Council members said last night that controls are needed, especially at a time of mounting opposition from critics of Baltimore's venture into school privatization.

The city hired Education Alternatives Inc., a private Minneapolis company, to provide instructional services at nine public schools and day-to-day management at three others. Critics have questioned the company's effectiveness and argued that EAI-run schools enjoy an unfair advantage because they receive more money per student.

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat who is leading the drive to put the charter amendment on the ballot, said he is concerned that the trend toward privatization of municipal services will hurt minority workers and prove costly in the long run.

Council Vice President Vera P. Hall pointed out that the mayor could well veto the latest measure. She argued for waiting a week to determine the mayor's position.

Mr. Schmoke could not be reached for comment last night.

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