City housing scandal -- again Conflict of interest: Housing inspector's own crumbling properties evade penalties.

January 31, 1996

THE SCHMOKE administration's half-hearted housing code enforcement over the past eight years has now produced a scandal where a senior housing inspector -- shielded by his position -- was able to dodge repeated complaints about serious violations at his 17 rundown rental properties in Baltimore City.

Even more incredibly, according to a three-month investigation by Sun reporter Jim Haner, a middle-level housing official had approved an unofficial policy allowing inspectors to own rental properties.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke says he is shocked, shocked. Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III says he is outraged, outraged.

Because of the revelations, violation notices are being belatedly posted on properties owned by inspection superintendent Henry John "Jack" Reed III and he is fighting for his job. Robert Dengler, a supervisor who disregarded inherent conflicts of interest to allow city inspectors to own rental properties, is in the doghouse. That's where he belongs.

It is easy to see who will be the fall guys in this embarrassing episode. Yet the scandal points to a more fundamental breakdown in the Department of Housing and Community Development, where code enforcement has become a low priority under Mayor Schmoke.

When the city itself ignores repeated neighborhood complaints and lets its properties rot -- as at 1700 N. Gay Street and 1708 N. Collington Avenue, to name just two of innumerable sites -- a message is sent to residents and landlords alike that anything goes. The result has been a stunningly rapid deterioration of many residential neighborhoods throughout the city.

When he took over the housing bureaucracy, Mr. Henson pledged to quickly rectify the mistakes of his much-criticized predecessor, Robert Hearn. Three years later, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Mr. Henson has failed to make lasting systemic changes. A hard-charging, hands-on manager, he has not developed a competent collegial command structure. Too many things fall through the cracks.

The current scandal shows that the housing bureaucracy has to be revamped and order re-established. The City Council should insist on that when it considers Mr. Henson's reappointment at a Feb. 14 public hearing.

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