Henson agrees to provide housing records to panel

March 25, 1995|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III says he will turn over many of the documents sought by a City Council committee that met for the first time yesterday to investigate the housing authority's embattled no-bid program to repair public homes.

Third District Councilman Martin O'Malley, chairman of the newly formed Legislative Investigations Committee, requested detailed records in a March 9 letter.

Mr. O'Malley asked Mr. Henson for a list of houses renovated under the no-bid program; contract specifications on each house; certificates showing the work was completed and inspections on all jobs; and a copy of an agreement a city attorney asked a federal auditor to sign, promising not to report any findings to the FBI.

In a letter sent yesterday, Mr. Henson said the documents were "too voluminous" to copy and deliver but would be made available to Mr. O'Malley by April 3.

"We're talking about a roomful of paper," he said in an interview. "I'm going to give them a roomful of information, if that's what they want."

But Mr. Henson denied there was a "vow of secrecy" agreement. The Sun reported in a three-part series exposing problems with the no-bid program that housing authority lawyer David Leibowitz asked a federal auditor to pledge that evidence would not be furnished to FBI agents looking into possible corruption in the authority.

Federal prosecutors have gained 10 convictions related to the no-bid program.

Mr. Henson said in his letter to Mr. O'Malley that he would release a complete list of units renovated under the program along with contract specifications, certificates of completion and inspection papers for each.

He said the documents would include the names of all inspectors with the units they inspected and the completion dates.

The commissioner also disclosed that he authorized the hiring of attorney Gerald D. Glass to represent the housing authority in May 1994. He said the lawyer was paid less than $5,000.

Seven council members attended yesterday's hearing of the Legislative Investigations Committee, which Council President Mary Pat Clarke, a mayoral candidate, revived after dismissing the conclusions of a March 7 review conducted by a committee chaired by Council Vice President Vera P. Hall, an ally of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke.

"The credibility of the city is on the line here," said Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District councilman, one of three city legislators who attended the hearing although they were not appointed to the panel.

An audit by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded that contractors overcharged for jobs and did substandard repairs.

Mrs. Clarke said council members still are waiting to be told exactly how money for the no-bid program was spent.

"This is not just about this $25 million. It's about the next $25 million and it's about the next $100 million," she said, referring to the city's selection as a federal empowerment zone, which will yield $100 million in federal spending for development. "More money is being spent every day. We've got to get a handle on what's happening here."

Committee members said yesterday's hearing was the first in a long process in which they would seek the cooperation of whistle-blowers. It was unclear who would be called to testify other than HUD officials, but some members pointed out that the committee could use its power to subpoena witnesses.

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