Officials look into inspectors' holdings Probe seeks landlords in city housing agency

January 31, 1996|By Jim Haner and JoAnna Daemmrich | Jim Haner and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Eric Siegel contributed to this article.

Signaling a widening probe into possible conflicts of interest in the Baltimore housing department, the mayor and housing commissioner announced yesterday that they are reviewing the financial records of all city inspectors to see if they own slum properties.

The announcement came two days after an article in The Sun detailed more than a hundred deficiencies in four of the 17 rental rowhouses owned by city housing inspection superintendent Henry John "Jack" Reed III, 55.

Mr. Reed has been an employee of the Housing and Community Development Department for nearly three decades -- during a time when he was amassing a portfolio of decrepit properties in East Baltimore beset by faulty heating systems, flooded basements, leaky sewage pipes and rampant rat infestation.

Yesterday, Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III stripped Mr. Reed of his enforcement authority and transferred him to the housing agency's Rat Rub-Out Office, where he will continue to collect his $46,000 annual salary as superintendent of rat eradication.

"That is not to say that this is the final determination of Mr. Reed's status as a city employee," said housing spokesman Zack Germroth. "His case is very much under active and continuing review.

"The commissioner has yet to make a final decision."

Earlier in the day, Commissioner Henson assigned one of the agency's highest-ranking supervisors to pore over the financial disclosure records of top inspection officials to determine if any of them owned rental properties that could involve them in conflicts of interest.

Under the city's ethics law, elected officials, department heads and other employees including housing inspectors must submit annual reports disclosing financial interests they hold in the city.

As of yesterday afternoon, General Superintendent of Inspection Mary Hough had reviewed the reports of 17 high-ranking officials in the Department of Housing and Community Development.

None reported owning rental properties.

"Individuals holding the public's trust to regulate the quality of housing should not be earning their income by actively participating in an industry that they are sworn to regulate," Mr. Henson said in a prepared statement.

Mr. Henson went on to announce five other steps he is taking as part of his investigation -- including inspecting all of Mr. Reed's properties and double-checking the findings by having the reports reviewed by a "quality control inspector."

He said he also intends to order inspections of any other properties owned by any of the more than 100 city workers who enforce the housing code.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who made clear in the wake of The Sun's article that he is troubled by Mr. Reed's landlord activities, approved the directive and went on to say he is also seeking an ethics investigation.

"I consider these just initial steps," Mr. Schmoke said through his spokesman, Clinton R. Coleman.

He warned that "further actions will be taken after the housing commissioner consults with the city's ethics board" to see if Mr. Reed or any other city inspector violated the public trust.

Mr. Henson is also looking into an unofficial policy of housing inspection director Robert Dengler, allowing his employees to own rental properties even though they are directly responsible for enforcing the housing code, said Mr. Germroth.

Mr. Dengler has not returned repeated phone calls to his home and office since Friday.

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