Get help, business leaders tell mayor Schmoke rejects proposal to appoint city 'operating officer'

July 26, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

In a bold move to improve the city's relationship with the business community, Baltimore business leaders are calling on Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to hire a chief operating officer who would take over the mayor's day-to-day governmental duties.

Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, stopped short of criticizing the mayor and his role in the business community yesterday.

But the request underscores recent dissatisfaction with Schmoke and his chief of staff, Lynnette W. Young, who essentially functions as chief operating officer.

"I think that it is very difficult for the mayor to day in and day out have to deal with the politics of the city and at the same time micromanage city agencies," Hutchinson said yesterday.

"I think we are saying that he needs help, not that he's lacking."

Schmoke yesterday dismissed the proposal and reiterated his support of Young, but said he was studying an alternative.

"I will have a strong chief of staff running government and that will be Lynnette Young," Schmoke said.

On Monday, he sent GBC Chairman Frank P. Bramble a letter saying that he would explore adding a managing director to supervise daily operations of city agencies, as is done in Philadelphia.

But that person would still report directly to Young.

Hutchinson, Bramble and some board members want Schmoke to concentrate on broader issues, such as setting policy and creating a vision for the city.

They want the city to model itself after large businesses that traditionally have a chief executive officer to set direction and a chief operating officer who handles daily business.

VTC "The mayor is running a $2 billion operation," said Hutchinson, referring to the $2.3 billion city budget allocated by the mayor.

The prospect of adding a chief operating officer was met with a "wait-and-see" attitude in the business community.

"It could work very well," said A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard, chairman and chief executive officer of Alex. Brown Inc.

"If it doesn't, it would create another layer of bureaucracy."

In the past, business leaders have criticized Schmoke for not being responsive to their needs, while the mayor has said that they haven't done enough to help the cash-strapped city.

Last year, Schmoke and the business community were involved in a public spat when some members of the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association threatened to quit unless he allocated more money to the tourism organization.

Schmoke let them quit and reorganized the group.

Since then, business giant United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. has moved out of its downtown tower and business leaders have decried downtown parking garage taxes that increase their bottom-line costs.

But Schmoke said he has moved to meet them halfway.

For example, he appointed former City Councilman Wilbur E. Cunningham to the newly created position of business liaison.

"I think the relations between city government and business will continue to improve," Schmoke said.

Hutchinson first met with the mayor last winter.

He wanted Schmoke to agree to creating a city manager position -- a form of government in cities that have weak mayoral systems, unlike Baltimore.

Schmoke, who would have had to give up much of his power, quickly rejected the idea.

"You don't make a major organizational change like that at the snap of the fingers, particularly when the GBC board started out initially talking about a city manager," Schmoke said.

"Many of their members didn't know the difference between a city manager and an operating officer."

The mayor said Hutchinson and Bramble came back to him in the spring and asked that he consider creating a chief operating or chief administrative officer position.

The first week of July, the board met with Schmoke to speak about that proposal and other issues.

Hutchinson said the GBC board "has not taken an official position, but I think the board felt the two of us could express the general consensus and the strong feeling that this would be the way to do it."

Hutchinson said he will decide in the coming months whether to continue to press for the mayor to add a chief operating officer or simply let the issue die.

Pub Date: 7/26/96

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