Pratt backs pick for real estate post Campaign chief was only, best candidate, comptroller says

March 21, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Comptroller Joan M. Pratt yesterday defended hiring her campaign manager and former business partner Julius Henson as the city's real estate officer, saying he was the "best-qualified" person even though she acknowledged he was the only one she interviewed for the job.

Praising Mr. Henson for his work managing her successful campaign last year for the city's third-highest office and heading her transition team, Ms. Pratt said, "In my opinion, he's the best qualified based on the information he provided me."

Ms. Pratt made her comments after the city's Board of Estimates approved without discussion a pay raise to a $79,900 annual salary for the position overseeing the city's portfolio of 350 buildings worth $3.2 billion.

The last person to hold the job, which has been vacant since summer, was paid $71,540 under a year-to-year contract, officials said. Before that, the job was a salaried post paying $67,800 a year, they said.

A local watchdog group that monitors city spending and efficiency expressed dismay at Ms. Pratt's choice and the way she made it.

"I am surprised and disappointed that she would have filled such a responsible position without conducting a reasonably thorough search for the most qualified individual and to have filled the job with someone who is her former campaign manager," said George A. Nilson, president of the Baltimore Taxpayers' Coalition.

Ms. Pratt's appointment of Mr. Henson is her most visible act since her inauguration in December as comptroller an office that had been vacant for more than a year after her predecessor, Jacqueline F. McLean, resigned in a corruption scandal.

Neither City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III, who chairs the Board of Estimates, nor Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who controls three of the board's five votes, publicly questioned Ms. Pratt's appointment of Mr. Henson. Outside the meeting, both cited the comptroller's authority under the city charter to fill the position.

"This is her shop," Mr. Bell said.

"Since the charter gives her the responsibility, she is the one who will accept responsibility," Mr. Schmoke said.

The mayor said he talked with Ms. Pratt about Mr. Henson's appointment yesterday, asking her about an apparent campaign pledge that she would not appoint the East Baltimore entrepreneur and political operative to a position in her office. The week before the Sept. 12 Democratic primary, Ms. Pratt said Mr. Henson had "no experience" and "will not be part of the comptroller's office."

"She said at no time had she promised not to appoint Mr. Henson but that he was not interested," Mr. Schmoke said.

Ms. Pratt said she persuaded Mr. Henson to head the nine-member real estate department in part because she was impressed by recommendations he had made for reviewing leases on properties owned by the city.

Besides orchestrating the successful campaign of Ms. Pratt, a certified public accountant and political novice, Mr. Henson co-owned nine investment properties with her. During the campaign, Ms. Pratt sold her interest in the buildings to Mr. Henson.

Ms. Pratt declined to say yesterday whether she had a personal as well as a business and political relationship with Mr. Henson.

"I don't see what that has to do with my job as comptroller," she said.

Two years ago, a charter revision commission recommended removing the real estate department from the comptroller's office and putting it under the city's finance department. But the City Council rejected the proposal, saying it would only serve to increase the power of the mayor.

Ms. Pratt said yesterday that she also filled the vacant job of city auditor. Beverly L. Everson-Jones, a certified public accountant and executive director of the National Association of Black Accountants Inc., will start work April 28, she said.

A Columbia resident, Ms. Everson-Jones is a graduate of Virginia State University and a former audit manager for the accounting firm Coopers & Lybrand, according to a biographical sketch provided by the comptroller's office.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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