Schmoke agrees Ambridge should review land deals But mayor says he is not the city's chief negotiator

June 28, 1996|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Striking a conciliatory tone, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke agreed yesterday that newly named real estate officer Anthony J. Ambridge should review the city's leases and land sales before they are approved but said he would not be the "chief negotiator" on the deals.

"The office serves an important function," the mayor acknowledged at his weekly news briefing. "What we intend to do is to run deals through them before they go to the Board of Estimates, in the same way that we [run] all of our major financial transactions through the audits department."

Schmoke said he had at first believed that Ambridge wanted to play a top role in determining the terms of the transactions, but said the former 2nd District city councilman had told him that was not the case.

"That's just not going to happen. It's not his role," the mayor said of the negotiator's job, which has traditionally been handled by various agencies acting on their own behalf and the housing department and Baltimore Development Corp. acting on behalf of the city. "But he needs to have some input, even if it is merely advisory."

Ambridge, appointed to the position by Comptroller Joan M. Pratt two weeks ago, welcomed the mayor's comments but offered a caveat of his own.

"I'm happy to hear this," he said. "But I would caution him that it's important that we get in at the beginning of the process to provide experience and oversight and coordination.

"I'm not trying to get into the [agencies'] business. I'm just trying to help them with their business," Ambridge added.

For two weeks, Ambridge and Pratt have complained at meetings of the Board of Estimates, which must approve all city contracts, that the real estate department has not been given enough time to review transactions.

On Wednesday, Ambridge proposed that any property bought or sold be appraised beforehand and that public statements be provided justifying the deals.

He made the proposal as he questioned a deal in which city officials wanted to sell four vacant lots in West Baltimore for just $9,000 when it had spent $250,000 to buy and raze the decrepit rowhouses that had stood on the site.

Schmoke reiterated yesterday that he would have a written response to that proposal by the next Board of Estimates meeting July 10.

"What I'm just trying to do is to work out with the comptroller the process so that these things aren't slowed down but that they also get fairly careful review," he said.

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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