Real estate post important Henson appointment: Job is key in few checks and balances that exist at City Hall.

March 30, 1996

TO REALLY UNDERSTAND the importance of the real estate office job that Comptroller Joan M. Pratt gave to her "male friend" Julius Henson, you ought to go back a few years.

In 1993, millionaire baker John Paterakis bought the 18-story Munsey Building at a bargain price, $450,000, figuring the state government headed by his friend, Gov. William Donald Schaefer, needed rental space. But when the state looked elsewhere, Mr. Paterakis offered to rent the building to the city for its Civil Service Commission and other agencies.

This transaction appeared a done deal, needing only the approval of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, whom Mr. Paterakis had supported generously in elections. But who should show up uninvited one day at a Schmoke-Paterakis meeting in which the Munsey Building proposal was discussed? The head of the real estate office, Arthur E. Held. Mr. Held insisted that proper procedures be followed by surveying other buildings and receiving competitive bids.

In that one instance, a city real estate deal with the trappings of cronyism was thwarted. But Mr. Held, whose contract expired last year, says there have been countless other cases in past mayoral administrations as well as the current one when the real estate chief would himself have been thwarted. That's because the city charter gives the mayor authority to handle property transactions without going through the real estate office whenever he deems it necessary. The Baltimore Development Corporation, relatively free of scrutiny, has handled many city real estate deals. The Department of Public Works ignored the real estate office in managing the city's recent purchase of the Signet Bank building.

The real estate office should be headed by someone with a strong background in commercial real estate who can try to impose proper procedures when political insiders are cutting corners. It takes real expertise to oversee the city's vast holdings. Mr. Henson isn't that person. So long as as he is real estate chief, Ms. Pratt will be hobbled in her ability to guard the public purse and Baltimore will suffer.

Pub Date: 3/30/96

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