Pratt should fire Henson Real estate chief: Comptroller's secretive relationship has destroyed the public's trust.

March 28, 1996

COMPTROLLER Joan M. Pratt needs to dump her very personal friend, Julius Henson, as a well-paid aide in her office if she is to have any hope of regaining the public trust that she has so perversely forfeited. Until she does, Ms. Pratt's usefulness as a public servant and her future as an aspiring politician will be moot.

Baltimore citizens depend on the comptroller to tell the City Council or mayor or anyone who thinks he can buy influence at City Hall where to get off when it comes to spending the public's dollar. If there is one elected official who can act as the public's watchdog, it is the comptroller.

The comptroller should have a fiscal background, but more important is rock-solid integrity. Ms. Pratt was supported in the last city election by this newspaper and by thousands of Baltimoreans because she was perceived as a person with such qualities. A political newcomer, her plea to be given a chance as comptroller to prove the good she could do for Baltimore was compelling.

So, too, was the argument that she represents the next #i generation of Baltimoreans -- promising young professionals, XTC many of whom believe the reins of political power are too tightly held by an elite few. As a woman campaigning to take the place of a disgraced woman comptroller, Jacqueline McLean, she also stood forth as a potential role model for aspiring black females. So the voters chose her over former state Sen. Jack Lapides, a tried and true politician. The new comptroller has returned the favor in the worst way imaginable.

Her betrayal of the public's trust centers on a single man. Mr. Henson engineered Ms. Pratt's victory as her campaign manager and strategist. Now he has been installed by her as head of the city real estate department. She did this despite saying during her campaign that he had "no experience" for such work.

The two appear to be more than "just friends." Last month they had an interlude in Jamaica that appeared romantic. Mr. Henson also accompanied Ms. Pratt on separate trips in 1993 and 1994 to China and South Africa that were sponsored by the city pension systems trustee board, of which Ms. Pratt is a member.

One must question why the trustees were taking such lavish trips at taxpayer expense. Ms. Pratt paid for her partner. But the point is that when specifically questioned, she denied their relationship was that close.

It's close enough to consider the Henson appointment nepotism. It's close enough to wonder if Ms. Pratt is comfortable bending the truth. There's only one way she can regain a shred of the public's confidence that she has lost in appointing an unqualified "friend" to head the real estate office. Fire him.

Pub Date: 3/28/96

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