Clarke asks explanation of council role in McLean trial delay

June 14, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Concerned by the appearance of politics invading the courthouse, Baltimore City Council President Mary Pat Clarke called yesterday for an explanation from the five-member council delegation that became entangled last week in the comptroller's criminal case.

Hours after an extraordinary meeting Friday between the council members and two administrative judges, Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean's trial on fraud and misconduct charges was postponed for at least 2 1/2 months.

"Whatever anyone's feelings about the case itself are, [the meeting] certainly appears most improper and unfortunate," Mrs. Clarke said yesterday. "It concerns me greatly."

Mrs. Clarke said she, like most of the 19-member council, was left uninformed of the delegation's mission to complain about a rush to judgment of Mrs. McLean. The comptroller, 50, who has been under psychiatric care for months, is confined to a hospital under suicide watch after being involuntary committed Friday as a state mental patient.

"We've worked so hard to try to bring some credibility to the Baltimore City Council that this is a set back that I take quite personally," Mrs. Clarke said.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke also wants the council members to explain why they got involved. "Without further explanation, it leaves an appearance of political interference, even though that interference may not, in fact, exist," he said.

None of the five council members gave further explanations yesterday.

Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, said, "We were very concerned about this circus that was happening with Jackie in the midst of it all. We are all so quick to criticize, but I'm sorry, I have compassion for people."

Judge Joseph H. H. Kaplan, chief administrative judge of Baltimore Circuit Court, said Vera P. Hall, the council's vice president, sought the meeting to discuss the handling of the case. Both Mrs. Hall and Iris G. Reeves, D-5th, feared that Mrs. McLean was suffering through the court proceedings and was being treated differently because she is a black woman, the judge said.

The delegation also included Councilmen Melvin L. Stukes, D-6th, and Carl Stokes, D-2nd.

Now on unpaid leave from city government, Mrs. McLean has been charged with stealing more than $25,000 in public money and with trying to arrange a $1 million city lease for a family-owned building.

Early Friday morning, she was transferred from a halfway house at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson to a locked ward after threatening to commit suicide. The comptroller nearly died after taking an overdose of prescription pills and alcohol April 14.

Mrs. Clarke's comments came just two hours before the council approved a revised City Charter that left the comptroller's power over city real estate transactions intact.

For the past week, the Schmoke administration has lobbied to save a proposal to shift control over real estate and insurance purchases from the independently elected comptroller to the finance department. A move to save that change failed in a tie vote last night.

Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd, who led the effort to keep the comptroller's powers intact, said he was surprised to be told by the administration that Mrs. McLean had agreed to relinquish real estate, one of her main functions.

A year ago, Mrs. McLean outlined a plan to restructure the way the city manages its buildings. Mr. O'Malley said the plan seemed to show she was not about to give up control of the real estate department.

Deputy Comptroller Shirley Williams, who took over when Mrs. McLean went on leave, said, "There had been some discussion about [shifting those powers], but to my knowledge, there certainly hadn't been any sort of agreement reached."

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