Funds for state's attorney get OK

City Council panel approves budget rise to pay for programs expected to expire this year

March 23, 2006|By JOHN FRITZE | JOHN FRITZE,SUN REPORTER

Without fanfare or discussion, a City Council committee yesterday approved a $1.9 million budget increase for the Baltimore state's attorney's office - an appropriation that just two weeks ago caused an uproar.

The council's Budget and Appropriations committee unanimously approved the spending, which has been delayed for months and which will ultimately pay for programs expected to expire this year.

The meeting was a marked contrast to one held March 8, at which council members briskly adjourned the hearing as State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy was speaking - sparking a controversy that lasted for days.

Originally, some council members called on Jessamy to conduct a management audit of her office. But Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake said that receiving the $1.9 million was never contingent on an audit, and Jessamy has said she never agreed to one.

Rawlings Blake, also chairwoman of the budget committee, disagreed with Jessamy's assessment.

"She agreed to a management study, and I'm sure that she will keep her word," Rawlings Blake said. "But the management study wasn't a condition of the funding."

The $1.9 million appropriation, already in the fiscal 2006 budget, must be approved by the full council. The action comes just weeks before the council is expected to start hearings on the budget for the 2007 fiscal year.

The blowup this month underscored long-standing tension between Jessamy's office and City Hall, especially with Mayor Martin O'Malley. O'Malley is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, and Jessamy has endorsed his opponent, Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan.

At the hearing this month, council members raised questions about Jessamy's prosecution rate. After a tense exchange, the hearing was adjourned and some walked out of the room as Jessamy stood behind the lectern.

Later, Councilman James B. Kraft told reporters that Jessamy is "not the person to be leading the prosecution team in the city of Baltimore."

Through a spokeswoman, Jessamy said in a statement yesterday that she is pleased the money was approved.

"The necessity of this funding is supported by our citizens who recognize that funding the state's attorney's office at an adequate level is in the best interest of public safety," the statement read.

john.fritze@baltsun.com

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