City Council backs away from changes on housing Proposals to revamp department operations find scant support

February 14, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

Three bills that would revamp the city's housing department drew scant support from City Council members during last night's meeting.

Six members -- far from a majority of the 19-member council -- supported any of the bills, which now go to committee.

The bills would require the housing authority to submit quarterly budget reports to the City Council, prohibit the city solicitor's office from providing legal aid to the housing authority and require Daniel P. Henson III to forfeit his directorship of either the Housing Authority of Baltimore City or the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Some council members are publicly questioning Mr. Henson's ability to run the two agencies. Today at 5 p.m., he is scheduled to appear before the public and the council to answer questions at a reconfirmation hearing for the two posts.

Council members said they backed away from the proposed changes for several reasons, including fear that the changes would usurp the mayor's power and because members needed more time to review the bills.

"I'm concerned that this is usurping the power of the mayor," said 4th District Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. "I believe in checks and balances, but you can take checks only so far."

The council members who supported some or all of the measures, drafted by 3rd District Councilman Martin O'Malley, said the changes were long overdue and would give the City Council more oversight.

"You don't install the fire alarm after the house burns down," said 3rd District Councilwoman Joan Carter Conway, who supports some of the measures.

Mr. O'Malley has said that he hopes his legislation will persuade council members to scrutinize Mr. Henson's management of city housing issues. The council is expected to vote this month on Mr. Henson's reappointment.

The three bills have been referred to council committees, which probably will schedule public meetings.

Mr. O'Malley said the legislation stems from the City Council's fight with Mr. Henson over the merits of the $25.6 million no-bid housing repair program that last year risked millions of dollars on construction companies with little experience.

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