O'Malley, Jessamy make deal on budget

Prosecutor's office to get request, extra $600,000

June 03, 2005|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley agreed yesterday to significantly boost the budget of Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, a deal that may signal a newfound harmony between the long-discordant officials.

The agreement comes more than a week after the top prosecutor pleaded with an unsympathetic City Council for a $2.2 million permanent increase to her budget, testifying that she would consider going to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. if the mayor did not deliver.

Not only did O'Malley meet her request, he included an additional $600,000 for several other initiatives in her office. In exchange, Jessamy is considering undergoing an independent management study for her office - a move that is expected to answer calls for accountability from several council members.

"He was giving us money we didn't ask for," Jessamy said yesterday after a 90-minute meeting with the mayor. "I nearly fell on the floor. ... He seemed to really and truly understand our funding issues."

O'Malley said he was equally encouraged by progress made "on issues of mutual concern," according to a follow-up letter he sent Jessamy yesterday.

"There's so much we can do together," O'Malley said in an interview. "I'm glad she thought it was as positive as I thought it was."

The officials and their top staff members met in the mayor's executive conference room in City Hall, discussing finances, prosecutorial initiatives and some of the political ramifications of the budget debate.

Since Jessamy's testimony at a May 23 council budget committee hearing, O'Malley officials have repeatedly stated that the city has increased funding to the state's attorney's office by nearly 70 percent since fiscal year 1999. For the fiscal year that begins July 1, the city proposes a 17 percent increase to Jessamy's budget over the current fiscal year - including a one-time $1 million cushion for a loss of federal grants.

Jessamy had argued that the mayor has underfunded her agency for years. She said the expiration of grants would force her to eliminate dozens of positions unless the city permanently budgeted that $1 million, plus $1.2 million more. In response to a councilman's question, she said she would "beg the governor" for the money if O'Malley did not provide it.

Jessamy is widely considered an ally of Ehrlich, whom O'Malley is expected to challenge in next year's gubernatorial election. She said her meeting yesterday with O'Malley did touch on the sensitive topic.

"We talked about that - my being aligned with the governor," said Jessamy, who added that her comments had been spurred by a councilman's question. "That is not what I do. I don't believe in playing one person off of another. I made that point clear to the mayor."

The agreement, which still needs council approval, would provide $1 million to cover the positions funded by expiring grants. In addition, the city will add $1.034 million to ensure the continuation of 11 initiatives related to juvenile crime, domestic violence and gun prosecutions.

The city will also provide $447,000 for two attorneys and six law clerks to expand the so-called War Room into a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week operation at the Central Booking and Intake Center. It now operates 16 hours a day to accurately track cases involving violent offenders to make sure judges are aware of their criminal histories before making bail decisions.

Jessamy also will receive $351,780 for prosecutors dedicated to expediting cases of offenders whose crimes violate the terms of their parole or probation. She initially sought a grant for two prosecutors, but O'Malley suggested four.

O'Malley and Jessamy also agreed to explore ways to restart and expand the state's attorney's community prosecution program, the federal grant for which expired in April 2004. It assigns specific prosecutors to neighborhoods to aggressively pursue quality-of-life and nuisance crimes.

Although O'Malley's letter said Jessamy had agreed to a management and staffing study for her office, Jessamy said she needs to identify the appropriate independent review organization, such as the American Prosecutors Research Institute.

"We can talk about how much it would cost to see if the city would fund it," she said.

The positive meeting led two influential state leaders to praise O'Malley and Jessamy for beginning to ease tensions that date to 2001, when the mayor issued angry, profanity-laden criticism of Jessamy's decision not to prosecute a police officer accused of planting drugs.

O'Malley apologized profusely at the time, but the trouble between them has festered. "I think from that it has continued to roll into this sort of frenzy whenever there's any policy or budgetary disagreement to be worked out between us," he said.

U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and state Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, both Baltimore Democrats, appeared with O'Malley at an event yesterday in East Baltimore. Both said they were happy to see the local leaders put differences aside.

"The mayor is aggressive and can be at times overbearing," McFadden said. "I wanted them to get this personal feud settled."

Said Cummings: "Sometimes it's a matter of sitting down to talk to work out what only appear to be differences."

Jessamy agreed.

"We're both on the same page when it comes to making our streets safer," she said. "I haven't wiped the smile off my face yet."

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