A month in office, Bell orders $33,000 in perks Council president wants new car, remodeled office

January 05, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Within a month of taking office, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III ordered a new car and office renovations -- presidential perks totaling more than $33,000 in taxpayers' money.

Mr. Bell, the former 4th District councilman elected by a landslide in November to head the council, will trade in his 1988 Ford LTD for a $23,000 1996 Ford Crown Victoria as the car of choice to ferry him throughout the city.

Also, Mr. Bell's fourth-floor offices in City Hall will be revamped to include a $3,500 cherry wood door, a $1,500 security system and $2,400 worth of newly constructed doorways to provide easier entry. The offices also will be painted and carpeted.

"Let's put everything into context, because it will look like only we are changing our own little area," Mr. Bell said. "They are painting and carpeting throughout the City Hall building."

Mr. Bell contended that the $33,000 figure seemed higher than the actual cost and said that he would have to double-check the cost of his request. He also said that he didn't remember ordering all of the office renovations.

"I don't walk around knowing about every pencil. I have to look back for specifics because I don't recall," Mr. Bell said.

But according to records from the Department of Public Works, which is responsible for doing the work, Mr. Bell did request the changes. The department is responsible for determining how much the requests will cost.

Mr. Bell said that he asked for the new black Crown Victoria with tan interior because the 1988 Ford LTD assigned to him as a presidential privilege after taking office broke down on Liberty Road on Dec. 18.

"I was assigned an old car before, and it was falling apart. I don't think it is unreasonable that the president of the City Council have a car that doesn't break down," he said.

The city's top three elected officials and some city department heads are entitled to use city vehicles and drivers for business. But not every official does so.

Newly elected Comptroller Joan M. Pratt drives her own car, but she says that may change.

"Right now I don't need a car," Ms. Pratt said. But "I believe that if [city officials] are entitled to a car they should have one."

Former City Council President Mary Pat Clarke refused to order a new car the eight years she was in office and instead tooled around town in a city-owned 1981 Buick.

But Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has use of a Lincoln Continental and a Jeep Cherokee.

Mr. Bell said that his office needs more security because some of his office workers have reported items stolen. He also said that because he is "a council president who likes to be visible," it is important that he and his office staff remain accessible but safe.

Mr. Bell said that the $33,000 tab may look as if he is spending a lot of money, but that he is saving the city money by working on cost-saving plans like automated printing and streamlining of work involved in processing council legislation.

"Everyone in my office is trying to save money," Mr. Bell said.

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