Housing chief is grilled by council critics Heated exchanges dominate Henson's reconfirmation hearing

Favoritism charged

But several laud his efforts to solve city's problems

February 15, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews and JoAnna Daemmrich | Robert Guy Matthews and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III was grilled last night by angry City Council members who accused him of using his agency to get revenge on those who don't support him.

At a hearing on Mr. Henson's reconfirmation as the city's top housing official, some council members also charged that he ignores the council's requests for information on programs administered by his agency.

"Do you maintain a list of good guys and bad guys?" asked 2nd District Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, who alleged that Mr. Henson ignores certain council members because they do not support him.

"Councilman, I don't know what you are talking about," Mr. Henson said. "If you have something you are concerned about, spit it out."

Mr. Ambridge waved a stack of complaints he sent to the housing department that he said went unanswered. Mr. Ambridge has been a vocal critic of Mr. Henson and was the lone council member who did not back him in 1993 when he was nominated to the post.

Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, pounding his fists on the table, warned Mr. Henson that an agency that serves the public should be free of political favoritism. He also warned his fellow council members not to be cowed by such pressures.

"If people are taking a cer[See Henson, 4B] tain position because they are intimidated you are shirking your responsibility as a leader," Mr. Bell said.

Members of the Executive Appointments Committee will vote later whether to recommend that the 19-member City Council reappoint Mr. Henson, who technically has been in an acting position as head of the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and the Department of Housing and Community Development since last month.

Mr. Henson often found himself on the hot seat last night as he answered questions from council members. Though known for his combativeness, he often struck a conciliatory tone, saying that he was a friend to all council members and should be contacted whenever any of them needed help from his agency.

One of the most heated exchanges came when 3rd District Councilman Martin O'Malley grabbed the microphone and tried to question Mr. Henson on the $25.6 million no-bid housing repair program that has resulted in the conviction of six people on corruption charges.

Mr. O'Malley, head of the Legislative Investigations Committee, tried unsuccessfully last year to get Reginald C. Thomas, chairman of the Housing Authority board, to testify about the merits of the repair program that had risked millions of dollars on start-up construction companies with little experience. Mr. Henson fought to ensure that Mr. Thomas did not testify.

"I've waited a year to ask these questions," Mr. O'Malley said as Henson supporters hissed. "Have you changed your attitude?"

"What questions have we not answered?" asked Mr. Henson, who said he gave the committee more than 2,000 pages of reports.

The hearing, which lasted more than five hours, was not entirely contentious as several council members lauded Mr. Henson's efforts to solve the city's housing problems.

State Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, an East Baltimore Democrat, called him "the best housing commissioner of the United States."

"One important thing about our housing commissioner is he gets things done," Mr. McFadden said. "When you have the best, you keep the best. He is absolutely qualified and capable."

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