Council to probe city repairs

March 21, 1995|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Harold Jackson contributed to this article.

Calling an earlier hearing a charade that left many questions unanswered, several Baltimore City Council members announced last night their own investigation into the troubled $25.6 million public housing repair program.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke had revived the Legislative Investigations Committee last week and stacked it with four outspoken critics of the Schmoke administration's no-bid program to renovate more than 1,000 run-down homes. The only administration loyalist she chose for the panel promptly turned down the appointment.

The move was dismissed by Council Vice President Vera P. Hall, who chaired a March 7 hearing into the program's well-publicized problems, as a political gambit. The council president is challenging Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's bid for a third term, and two members of the committee are running against Mrs. Hall for council president.

Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley, whom Mrs. Clarke selected to chair the committee, pledged to conduct a thorough investigation into the program that has been faulted for shoddy work and inflated costs.

"We're going to do it methodically, and we're going to do it right," he said. "The goal is to get some answers to questions that don't seem to be forthcoming. I'd like to move systematically and thoroughly to restore some confidence in the city's ability to spend housing funds."

The committee, which has existed on the books but has not met in nearly four years, will hold its first hearing Friday morning to review a federal audit of the program.

Appointed to the committee were: John L. Cain from the 1st District, Carl Stokes from the 2nd District and Lawrence A. Bell from the 4th District. Fifth District Councilman Iris G. Reeves, who has not openly challenged the housing program, bowed off the panel.

Federal investigators cited the Baltimore Housing Authority last fall for spending twice the going rate to fix apartments, paying contractors for work that was never done and awarding lucrative contracts to companies run by relatives and friends of administration officials.

Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who has disputed the audit findings and vigorously defended the program, responded sharply to the prospect of another hearing.

"I've got a housing authority and a housing agency to run, and I don't have time to play games with these kids," Mr. Henson said last night, adding that he would provide in writing any information that council members are still seeking.

He said the majority of the 19-member council appears satisfied with his explanations at the earlier hearing and went on to say: "In the meantime, I'm busy. I'm not trying to hide anything, but I'm not going to play games with these folks."

Among the answers sought by Mr. O'Malley's committee are the exact number of homes repaired, the total cost of the work and the method used to select contractors.

Both he and Mrs. Clarke defended reviving the committee as an effort to deal with troubling allegations of misspent public funds. But Mrs. Hall said the issues were fully covered at the hearing she chaired as head of the housing committee and added: "If you look at the membership on it, it's not a giant leap to understand how they're going to move forward."

As the council met last night, Mr. Henson appeared at a rally of more than 200 people who gathered outside City Hall to support the Schmoke administration. Protesters carried signs that said they backed Mr. Henson and the mayor, and that The Sun had lied in a three-part series last month that detailed problems with the housing program.

One of the rally's organizers, Tony Walker, said the protest was planned after people discussing the articles decided to let the mayor know they have faith in him.

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