Once-misused account may help officers

Committee recommends giving some funds left from Norris scandal to 2 groups

April 14, 2005|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

A resolution approved last night by a City Council committee calls on the Baltimore Police Department to give $200,000 to two police benevolent associations from an account that has been untouched since former Commissioner Edward T. Norris was discovered using it to pay for expensive dinners and romantic liaisons.

The resolution was a compromise reached after debate among police and city officials who want to maintain control of the account and representatives of two groups representing active and retired police officers -- both of which wanted to use the money to assist officers in need.

The police "supplemental account" evolved from Depression-era charity funds for officers in crises. But in recent years, the fund went largely unnoticed and unused until it became the center of a police scandal in 2002 that ended in the resignation and conviction of Norris on federal charges that included lying on tax returns.

"It was a discretionary fund for the police commissioners until lack of discretion caused problems," said Councilman Robert W. Curran, chairman of the Judiciary and Legislative Investigations Committee.

Yesterday, council members expressed surprise by the amount left in the account -- $722,807.61 in stocks and cash.

Norris' history with the account hung over last night's hearing. But council members, police officials and a representative from the city finance department danced delicately around the scandal, referring to it variously as: "the whole Norris thing," "when Norris drew attention to the account" or simply "prior to 2002."

Left unsaid was the account's use by Norris for romantic encounters in New York, liquor at his home and lingerie gifts from Victoria's Secret.

"I think it's because they beat the Norris thing to death already," said Lt. Frederick Roussey, president of the police union.

The account had humble beginnings as three different funds in the 1920s and 1930s -- one for police athletic competitions, one to make small loans to needy police personnel, and another for charity donations, said Edward Ambrose, chief of administration for the Police Department.

The account's assets grew in the 1990 stock market boom.

Rules set up after the 2002 scandal put the account under the supervision of the city's Board of Finance, which is made up of the mayor, comptroller and three mayoral appointees. No withdrawals have been made since 2002.

"It's no good to have a pile of money just sitting there," said Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector.

The city's law and finance departments opposed the original resolution proposed by Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. to turn the entire account over to the police union and the Baltimore Retired Police Benevolent Association.

But both sides agreed on the amended version, which suggests giving the groups $100,000 each. The resolution, unanimously approved by the committee members, will be presented to the full City Council for a vote -- although passage still would not require transfer of the money.

The two police groups will have to submit formal requests for the money to Police Commissioner Leonard D. Hamm, and then a clerk with the Board of Finance would review the matter.

Kristen Mahoney, the Police Department's chief of technical services, called the compromise a "no-brainer," but added that Hamm would have to review the requests before approving them.

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