McLean retires as comptroller, with benefits

July 12, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean retired this morning, ending a once-promising political career that collapsed over the past six months amid charges of corruption in office.

Mrs. McLean, the first black woman to rise to the city's third-highest office, received approval from the city pension board to step down with full benefits.

City Solicitor Neal M. Janey determined last week that there was no legal basis for withholding Mrs. McLean's benefits while she is awaiting trial on fraud and misconduct charges. The comptroller is accused of stealing some $25,000 by having a fictitious consultant on her payroll and trying to arrange a $1 million city lease of a building she partly owned.

Mr. Janey earlier had noted that if Mrs. McLean is convicted of fraud and official misconduct, the city's retirement system could recoup any money paid to to her.

In a brief, low-key meeting, the seven-member pension board unanimously approved Mrs. McLean's retirement request this morning.

Board Chairman Harry Deitchman emphasized that under city law, the panel had no choice but to approve the pension. The board intends to follow the advice of the city solicitor and push for an amendment to defer the payment of benefits to any official charged with job-related offenses, he said.

Mrs. McLean, who is under psychiatric care for depression at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital in Towson, qualifies for an pension of $23,850 a year, 45 percent of her $53,000 salary.

She also will receive a new round of medical benefits, which she needs to continue her treatment.

Her retirement brings to a close a career that once had political observers speculating on when Mrs. McLean would run for mayor.

It also created an immediate vacancy in the comptroller's office, prompting City Council President Mary Pat Clarke to call a

special council session for Friday.

Under the city charter, a successor must be chosen by a 10-vote majority of the 19-member council.

The requirement already has set off intense jockeying on behalf of two council members -- 5th District Councilwoman Iris G. Reeves, who is supported by Mayor Kurt Schmoke, and 4th District Councilman Lawrence A. Bell III, who is backed by the council president.

Ms. Clarke said she hopes the council makes every effort to come up with the 10 votes to choose a new comptroller to finish out Ms. McLean's term, which expires in December 1995.

If the council fails to do so, she said, she would seek advice from the city solicitor and Mr. Schmoke on keeping the deputy comptroller on for the next 18 months.

"I want to say this is a very unfortunate chapter in our history," Ms. Clarke said. "I'm very anxious to see this sad chapter put behind us and restore some public confidence in our Board of Estimates. We have an obligation to find a replacement -- someone who will be accountable, someone who will restore confidence in the office, someone who will bring back that

watchdog function."

Ms. McLean has been on an indefinite leave of absence since allegations during the winter that she was sending checks made out to a fictitious employee and nonexistent women's organization to her sister's hair salon. Her trial, originally scheduled to begin last month, has been postponed until September. She has pleaded innocent to the charges.

In his opinion yesterday, Mr. Janey noted that at age 50 and with 18 years of service -- including six years as a District Court commissioner -- Ms. McLean exceeds the criteria for full retirement.

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