Bell's amateur hour Wrong move: Failed attempt to block Henson reappointment shouldn't have been made.

February 28, 1996

THE ROAD TO HELL is paved with good intentions. That trite homily must be applied to the misguided attempt of City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III to stop the reappointment of Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III.

There was good reason for the council not to confirm the reappointment of Mr. Henson. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke ought to have provided the council a report on a multitude of problems within Mr. Henson's department, including several cases in which housing inspectors have been allowed to abuse their positions of authority.

Despite the lack of such a report and despite corruption found in the city's $25.6 million no-bid housing repair program, it should have been obvious to Mr. Bell that Mr. Henson had the council votes to be reappointed. So Mr. Bell tried an amateurish stunt to derail the reappointment and failed. He meant well, but made matters worse, for himself and for the city.

Council members over the years have become accustomed to glad-handing gadflies and constituents before casually wandering into chambers 5 to 10 minutes after their weekly meeting is supposed to start. Mr. Bell not only began Monday night's meeting on time, he dispensed with the usual Pledge of Allegiance and prayer to take a quick vote on Mr. Henson.

The reappointment was denied, but only briefly. Cued by Fourth District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, Sixth District Councilman Melvin L. Stukes voted with the majority only so he could ask, under council rules, for a re-vote later. The Henson reappointment was confirmed in the second vote. The mayor and council have said Mr. Henson is right for the job.

The people of Baltimore cannot be so confident. Not with housing inspectors doubling as slumlords, not with electrical inspectors doubling as consultants for private contractors. Such incidents indicate the housing department needs overhauling from the top down.

Instead Mr. Henson has been reappointed. And Mr. Bell, after failing to steamroll the reappointment process, has earned the mistrust of the newer council members he will need if Mr. Schmoke's seemingly blind allegiance to Mr. Henson is ever going to be challenged.

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