Henson hands in resignation Real estate officer was told to quit by Comptroller Pratt

Move effective today

Blames departure on 'media frenzy,' hostility of City Hall

April 12, 1996|By Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich | Eric Siegel and JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Julius Henson abruptly resigned late yesterday as Baltimore's real estate officer, ending three weeks of constant controversy over his close relationship with Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, who appointed him to the job.

"I was asked by the comptroller to resign and I've done so," Mr. Henson said last night outside City Hall. His resignation is effective today.

Mr. Henson -- Ms. Pratt's campaign manager, close friend and business partner -- declined to say why Ms. Pratt had asked him to resign from the $79,400 post overseeing the city's $3.2 billion real estate portfolio. But he blamed his departure on a "media frenzy" and hostility toward him by the Schmoke administration.

Efforts to reach Ms. Pratt last night were unsuccessful. But an aide, Danice Lewis, confirmed that Mr. Henson had told the first-term comptroller late in the day that he was resigning.

Earlier in the day, Ms. Pratt backed off from an early characterization of Mr. Henson as the "best qualified" person for the job, though she praised his work during his brief tenure.

"I'd like to qualify that," she said in a telephone interview yesterday afternoon that marked her first public comments about Mr. Henson in more than two weeks. "I think he's qualified to do the job. I'm satisfied that he has real estate experience."

The resignation of Mr. Henson, 47, came as two official -- but sometimes conflicting -- accounts of his professional background were released and The Sun informed Ms. Pratt that it intended to continue to investigate his private business dealings.

Yesterday, The Sun reported that Mr. Henson had been sued numerous times over the past decade for failing to fulfill business deals and for doing poor work while running a series of small contracting companies.

Separate accounts of Mr. Henson's professional background were released yesterday by the city's personnel office and Ms. Pratt's office, in response to requests by news organizations under Maryland's public information laws.

The account by the personnel department, culled from information he provided on his application, said he ran a real estate company called Wild Geese from 1983 through 1996. State corporate records show the company was not incorporated until 1993.

It said he ran another company, Henson Development Associates, from 1984 to 1987. State corporate records showed no such listing.

The account by the comptroller's office, released three hours later, said he ran Wild Geese from 1993 to 1996 and Henson Development Associates, trading as the J. Henson Corp., from 1987 to 1993.

Both accounts said he had earned a degree from Morgan State University. But a Morgan official said last week that he had completed the course work but had not received a diploma because of failure to pay an unspecified bill.

Mr. Henson last night dismissed the discrepancies in the accounts.

"That is of no interest. It is a moot point," he said.

He castigated the media for indulging in a "feeding frenzy" about his appointment, accusing them of "racism" and "sexism."

He also took some sharp swipes at Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, saying, "The administration is afraid of competent people who are going to disagree with them." He also accused administration officials of conspiring with reporters to discredit him.

"This team's had nine years, and what has been accomplished? Are we the city that reads? No, we're the city that closes libraries," he said.

Over the last three weeks, the controversy over Mr. Henson's appointment dominated City Hall. Reporters showed up in droves at normally ignored public meetings to question Ms. Pratt and Mr. Schmoke on the appointment.

The turmoil again tarnished the image of Baltimore's comptroller's office, damaged in the drawn-out corruption scandal that led to the 1994 resignation of Ms. Pratt's predecessor, Jacqueline F. McLean.

Mr. Henson's resignation drew immediate praise from a local watchdog group that monitors city spending and efficiency.

"It's probably the best judgment I've heard exercised in the comptroller's office in the last month," said David B. Rudow, executive vice president of the Baltimore Taxpayers' Coalition.

In hiring Mr. Henson, the architect of her successful campaign for the city's third-highest office, Ms. Pratt contradicted an earlier position that he would play no role in her administration. Mr. Henson said his main experience in real estate came from owning a string of investment properties. He and Ms. Pratt jointly owned nine rental homes, most in poor, struggling city neighborhoods, but she says she sold her interest to him last August.

In the week after his appointment, The Sun reported that Mr. Henson and Ms. Pratt took three trips abroad together in the past three years, including one last winter to Jamaica. Ms. Pratt acknowledged that she had dated Mr. Henson for a number of years, but claimed their relationship had ended, though the two remain "very good friends."

As the city's real estate officer, Mr. Henson was in charge of overseeing 350 city-owned buildings valued at $3.2 billion, from health clinics to libraries.

Mr. Henson currently is under review by city prosecutors for failing to correct code violations on one of his East Baltimore rental properties. The action is the result of a 10-month effort by the city's housing department to force Mr. Henson to repair missing tile and rotting wood on the kitchen floor and a defective pipe.

He also is scheduled to go to trial in a civil case April 29 for unpaid gas and electric bills totaling $1,698.74. The bills, some of which are for unpaid utilities at an office, were sent to him at Ms. Pratt's home in North Baltimore.

Pub Date: 4/12/96

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