Solicitor's scrutiny angers Clarke

May 27, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore City Solicitor Neal M. Janey says he only wanted to err on the safe side.

But supporters of Council President Mary Pat Clarke call his request for extensive details on a Board of Estimates item involving her husband a deliberate political attack.

"I think it definitely was politically motivated," said Betty Deacon, the council president's top aide. "She recused herself from the whole issue immediately, and everything we did, we did as it should have been done."

A week ago, Mr. Janey pulled from the agenda the Clarke item as well as one that could have involved the wife of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. The solicitor expressed concern over even the slightest chance of impropriety in the wake of the comptroller scandal.

Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean has been charged with having a fictitious employee on her payroll and steering a $1 million city lease to the former headquarters of her travel agency.

The development company run by Mrs. Clarke's husband, J. Joseph Clarke, wanted a resolution of support from the board to obtain $1.2 million in state tax-exempt bonds. Mr. Clarke plans to refurbish a 64-unit apartment building near the Johns Hopkins University.

This week, however, Mr. Clarke asked that the resolution be withdrawn because he has lined up conventional financing.

On Wednesday, the board approved the second item, a request from the Health Department to reimburse Baltimore Medical System Inc. $252,763 in outstanding fees from 1989.

Mayor Schmoke's wife, Patricia, an ophthalmologist, is providing eye care services at three of the company's clinics. City health officials reassured the board that Mrs. Schmoke was not practicing at the clinics five years ago. The mayor abstained from the vote.

The solicitor's letter requesting more information on the rehab proposal, including whether the apartments would be rented to low-income families or students, ignited a sharp exchange Wednesday with the council president.

Mrs. Clarke said she has no personal financial stake in the project and went out of her way to follow proper ethical procedures.

At the board's work session, Mrs. Clarke, who plans to challenge the mayor next year, muttered she had some suspicions about the solicitor's intense questioning. Mr. Janey snapped back, "You better not open up this can of worms."

"I felt it was inappropriate that the lawyer who represents me go to the press on a matter in which all the steps were followed," Mrs. Clarke said afterward.

Mr. Janey denied approaching the media and insisted he was just being cautious, not political. He said he became concerned because one letter from Mr. Clarke mentioned "our mutual interest." Mr. Clarke later explained that he owns 80 percent of the limited partnership and his four children the rest.

The city solicitor said he also was surprised by the wording of the item, which referred to "100 percent low-income tenants" because the apartment building is in Charles Village. Most of the tenants are students, who have little or no income.

Mayor Schmoke also maintained there were no political motivations.

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