Mayor wants housing revealed All city employees told to disclose real estate holdings

26,400 workers affected

Department chiefs expected to complete poll by month's end

April 26, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

In an unprecedented directive to all city employees, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is ordering them to disclose any real estate interests they have in Baltimore.

Expanding his scrutiny far beyond the housing department, Mr. Schmoke is asking all 26,400 government workers, from city lawyers to teachers, secretaries and garbage collectors, to report for the first time any investment properties they own.

Mr. Schmoke told his department chiefs this week to survey their employees to find out how many have an interest in commercial or residential holdings besides their own homes. The city's top appointed officials are to hand in their findings by the end of the month.

The mayor's action comes two months after revelations in The Sun that at least five housing officials, including a supervisor of inspections, were allowed to own rundown rental homes in the city for years with little or no action by their agency.

"We're actually broadening our scope of inquiry," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday. "We're looking at homes other than employees' primary residences. We want to find out the condition of those houses."

The top-to-bottom survey, he said, is designed to help him come up with a comprehensive policy for all government employees regulating ownership of investment properties.

The city never has placed restrictions on employees'interest in rental homes or commercial real estate.

But in the wake of disclosures that officials responsible for enforcing Baltimore's housing code owned blighted rental homes, Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III tightened the rules for his employees last month. His new regulations include mandatory annual inspections of rental properties owned by employees and a 15-day deadline to fix deficiencies.

In a broader effort, the mayor now plans to issue guidelines for all city workers. He also is considering barring employees who enforce building, construction, sanitation and other codes, and possibly city lawyers who handle housing issues, from owning rental properties.

An outright ban, however, is complicated by legal and contractual questions that city lawyers have been trying to resolve.

One is whether the Schmoke administration can order workers to divest of properties they bought when the old rules were in effect. Another is whether the city can prohibit employees from accepting properties they inherited.

The Health Department already has asked its food and restaurant inspectors to reveal any interest they own in such businesses and is now conducting the larger survey of property ownership, said Elias Dorsey, deputy health commissioner.

Only one inspector reported having an interest in a business the Health Department regulates -- a gas station with convenience store that is checked for sanitary conditions. The employee has been ordered to avoid ever inspecting the gas station.

"We want to make sure our shop is clean," Mr. Dorsey said. "This is for the benefit of making sure people who are city employees are also being good neighbors in the city."

The mayor's survey -- or any policy he orders -- does not affect the 19 members of the City Council, the comptroller or any employees working for them.

But under the city's ethics law, elected officials and department heads must submit annual reports disclosing financial interests they hold in the city, including real estate.

Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, for example, last reported she co-owned nine rental properties with Julius Henson, her campaign manager. She hired him as the city's real-estate officer in March but forced him to resign after three weeks of controversy over his appointment. Ms. Pratt has said she sold her interest in the properties to Mr. Henson during the campaign.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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