Gullible mayor wastes city money

Shenanigans: Taxpayers are fleeced because O'Malley did not stick to federal relocation law.

March 30, 2001

BALTIMORE Mayor Martin O'Malley has only himself to blame for the scandal involving some west-side renewal area merchants' inflated relocation costs.

He, after all, acknowledges having made "a conscious policy decision" to pay dislocated businesses more than federal regulations required.

So, spotting a gullible sucker, some Howard Street area shopkeepers decided to cash in -- at taxpayer expense.

City officials might just as well have flushed the money down a toilet.

Consider just three examples, which would not have qualified for a penny of compensation under the federal relocation guidelines:

Taxpayers paid a shoe store operator, a convicted heroin dealer, $134,752 for his inventory -- 6,956 pairs of women's flats, heels and boots.

Despite this apparent going-out-of-business auction, the city then paid the man another $20,000 so that he could move himself just three doors down and reopen with new inventory. Taxpayers also paid another $10,000 to renovate his new store.

Taxpayers paid $532,570 to a record store owner for compact discs and 4,194 pagers he liquidated, even though he had another store just two blocks away.

Taxpayers paid a small jewelry store more than $700,000 because it chose to go out of business.

It is unconscionable that the O'Malley administration would agree to these kinds of rip-offs, particularly at a time when libraries are being shuttered, layoffs are in the offing and city services cut because of a budget deficit.

It's especially appalling that the mayor allowed liquidation of store inventory when there was no real way of knowing whether that stock was real or consisted of discards that may have been brought in to inflate appraisals.

Mr. O'Malley could have saved city taxpayers huge amounts of money by sticking to the 1970 Uniform Relocation Assistance Act. It specifies that no business can claim more in compensation than the equivalent of "reasonable expenses that would have been required to relocate such property."

Why did he ignore it? He says that generosity was in order because "the leadership" in Annapolis had expressed fears that dislocated west-side merchants would get a raw deal.

The mayor made sure taxpayers got a raw deal instead.This whole caper just stinks.

The mayor ought to insist that future relocations are done according to federal guidelines.

And if City Comptroller Joan Pratt's audits show any evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the relocation process, prosecutors should not hesitate to bring some justice to this whole process.

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