Report on Pratt aide due tomorrow City will release data on Henson credentials

April 11, 1996|By Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich | Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

After three weeks of controversy over the appointment of Julius Henson as Baltimore's real estate officer, the public is about to get its first official information about his professional background and experience.

The city's Civil Service Commission is preparing to release a report tomorrow on the credentials Mr. Henson listed on his application for the $79,400-a-year job overseeing Baltimore's $3.2 billion real estate portfolio.

Details of Mr. Henson's background will be made public unless he takes legal action to try to block the disclosure, but the application will be kept confidential because it is considered part of an employee's personnel file.

"We will proceed unless we receive notice that a suit has been filed," city Solicitor Neal M. Janey said yesterday.

A continuing examination by The Sun of Mr. Henson's professional background found that he completed course work for a college degree at Morgan State University but never obtained a diploma because of an unspecified bill that was unpaid as of last week, according to school records. City requirements for the job say a college degree is "desirable."

Mr. Henson made a living from a string of small corporations he set up to buy and manage residential rental properties, erect signs and do minor construction work. He has been accused more than once of failing to deliver services and doing shoddy work, according to interviews and a review of court and corporate records and other documents.

It is unclear whether Comptroller Joan M. Pratt -- who has been under fire for hiring Mr. Henson, her campaign manager and friend -- will release a separate and presumably more detailed resume.

Ms. Pratt evaded reporters at City Hall yesterday, saying only that she would make a statement about Mr. Henson "in the next couple of days."

Mr. Henson declined to be interviewed yesterday, saying he was acting on Ms. Pratt's instructions.

"I've been advised by the comptroller to make no comments until she's talked to the media," he said. "She's my boss, and I have to do that."

In appointing Mr. Henson to the real estate job three weeks ago, Ms. Pratt described him as the "best qualified" person for the job but acknowledged that she had not interviewed anyone else. She has refused repeated requests for details of his background.

A week after Ms. Pratt appointed Mr. Henson, The Sun reported that the pair had taken three trips abroad in the past three years, including one over the winter to Jamaica. Ms. Pratt has acknowledged that the two are "very good friends" but has said that their friendship played no role in his hiring.

Among the "desirable" requirements for the job listed by the city are "a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and five years of experience in performing real estate negotiation, brokerage, appraisal or management work."

Mr. Henson, 47, began attending Morgan State in 1967, the school's records show. He completed the academic requirements in 1977 but never received a degree because of an unpaid bill, the school said.

About that time, he began buying residential properties in the inner city, many at fire-sale prices. He continued that practice as recently as last fall and winter, when he set up two companies to buy two buildings, one in Southwest Baltimore, the other in West Baltimore, records show.

One of his properties is under review by city prosecutors because of uncorrected housing violations. Mr. Henson has had problems in the past with some of his other businesses, records show.

In 1989, Mr. Henson ran into trouble with a contract with the city held by one of his companies, the J. Henson Corp., to replace doors at the Baltimore Convention Center.

In March of that year, the city voided an $18,310 contract with ZTC Mr. Henson's company because the company failed to replace the doors within the required 90 days, city records show.

"The company has failed to initiate or complete any work despite numerous phone calls to them," the city's purchasing office wrote in seeking to void the contract five months after it was issued.

After Mr. Henson told top city officials that he had run into trouble getting the doors from a supplier but had finally gotten a $6,000 shipment, his company was allowed to do the work but was barred from bidding on other contracts, and Mr. Henson never did any more city work, according to records and interviews.

In 1989 and the early 1990s, city sheriff's constables knocked repeatedly on Mr. Henson's door on North Decker Avenue trying to serve him summonses on a half-dozen small claims that had been filed in District Court, records show.

A car repair shop on Gwynns Falls Parkway sued Mr. Henson in early 1990, claiming that he had failed to deliver a large red sign he had promised or to refund the $300 deposit. Constables attempted to serve him summonses at his home three times in February 1990, again in May and again in October before Gwynns Falls Auto Service Inc. gave up.

Six years later, the owner, John Dorsey, still is disgusted.

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