Schmoke's Shadow Government

July 05, 1995

When William Donald Schaefer was the mayor of Baltimore, he created an extralegal structure of decision-making that ultimately became known as the "shadow government." It consisted of a small group of handpicked "trustees" who set up a system of quasi-governmental corporations to circumvent the requirements of the City Charter and then kept them bankrolled through a secret loan fund.

During the past eight years, the Schmoke administration has developed its own shadow government: the law firm of Shapiro and Olander.

Founded by Ronald M. Shapiro, Kurt L. Schmoke's chief fund-raiser, the firm also employs Larry S. Gibson, the mayor's campaign manager. Mr. Schmoke constantly relies on these two men for advice, chiefly on politics but also on appointments and policy. They are so close that the three are said to be the only people privy to the full questions and results of the Schmoke campaign's polling. Few important city contracts apparently are approved without prior scrutiny by what is known at City Hall simply as "the law firm."

While this kind of review may have started as a way to shield the mayor from embarrassments, it has become increasingly formalized, Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich report in The Sun. During Mr. Schmoke's second term, the Shapiro and Olander firm has been paid at least $1.4 million in legal fees -- double the amount paid to the law firm during the mayor's first four years.

That figure is probably a substantial understatement. Yet it is impossible to know for certain how much taxpayers are paying Shapiro and Olander because the Schmoke administration steadfastly refuses to disclose the total amounts -- even though public dollars are involved for public enterprises.

We agree with Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., who says, "Public monies and how they're spent should be fully disclosed."

Mr. Schmoke contends he is merely following a practice established by two of his predecessors, Mr. Schaefer and Clarence H. "Du" Burns and that doing otherwise would endanger the "independence" of quasi-governmental groups.

This is legalistic sophistry.

The quasi-governmental groups do not have independence. They were established as ostensibly private corporations so they would be directly answerable to the mayor and yet would be difficult to examine by the public and the press.

What is different is that never before has a private law firm -- directly and indirectly -- assumed such control as Shapiro and Olander operatives have done under Mayor Schmoke. City taxpayers have a right to know how much the "trustees" of Mr. Schmoke's shadow government are paid in public funds.

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