Please explain

September 16, 2002

MAYOR MARTIN O'Malley must explain to Baltimore taxpayers exactly what the city's deal is with Marvin F. Billups Jr.

More than two months after Mr. Billups was fired from his job as parks director, he continues to draw his $99,800 salary. Moreover, he still lives rent-free in a city-owned house at Clifton Park Golf Course.

But there is more. Mayor O'Malley is now talking about trying to finagle a job for the dismissed director with the Police Athletic League, which runs 18 recreation centers, or finding "a better fit" for Mr. Billups somewhere else in the city government.

Severance packages are hardly unheard of in private businesses or government, when high-level executives are forced out. But we have to wonder if Mr. Billups deserves this golden parachute at taxpayer expense for his two years as the parks director. And even if he does, the appropriate course would have been for the Board of Estimates to discuss the terms and approve the deal.

City Comptroller Joan Pratt told The Sun's Tom Pelton that the board should have received a written agreement, including a specified time frame for the benefits. In addition, she said, Mr. Billups should have signed a lease for the house.

Apparently, none of this was done. Instead, Mr. Billups has an open-ended handshake deal with the mayor, who says he thought "it would be unfair to move someone out [of his home] and off the payroll without allowing some time so he can explore his possibilities inside and outside the government."

That, too, is a puzzling statement, to say the least. If Mr. Billups were qualified to serve in some city government job, just not the one he botched, why wasn't he transferred to begin with rather than fired?

The sooner Mayor O'Malley provides a full explanation, the better. Because this seems to be a ham-handed way to run a cash-strapped city.

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