With less than two weeks to go before he steps down, Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward V. Woods called stunned subordinates yesterday from St. Louis and announced that he will promote 10 sergeants today from a 2-year-old list of candidates that is set to expire at midnight.
Mr. Woods -- who was attending a convention of big-city police chiefs this week -- was unavailable for comment and left no explanation with police commanders as to why the surprise appointments were being made.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said through a spokesman that he approved the release of funds for the new positions -- including about $50,000 in pay increases for the new sergeants -- earlier this week at Mr. Woods' request.
"It was presented to the mayor as a final opportunity for the commissioner to make some appointments before he left office," said Clinton R. Coleman, Mr. Schmoke's spokesman. "The timing of it and the final decision is the commissioner's."
In the ranks, the announcement met with general approval and more than a little confusion.
"It's coming out of the blue," said Lt. Leander S. Nevin, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3. "But I don't have a problem with the commissioner making all the appointments he can before he leaves office. These people deserve it and they've been waiting a long time. As long as it's done fair, that's all we care about."
But questions of fairness lingered yesterday in the first flash of news from police headquarters.
First, the current list of 245 candidates -- compiled in October 1991 after the last department-wide sergeants' exam -- has been used since then to appoint some 80 sergeants. Thus, it no longer represents the highest-ranking candidates for the jobs.
Second, the list is scheduled to be replaced at midnight tonight with a new ranking of eligible officers -- a list that would be unlikely to include all of the 10 candidates due to be elevated by Mr. Woods in a ceremony in his office at 3 p.m. today.
Finally, Mr. Woods is not expected to select the candidates according to their rank on the old list. Rather, he has told subordinates that he will break with department tradition and skip over some leading candidates to reach others who might not otherwise have been selected.
A list of the names was not available late yesterday, but it was known that at least four are white males, two are black males and one is a Hispanic woman.
"He seems to be doing it with an even hand," said Henry A. Martin, president of the Vanguard Justice Society, which speaks for the department's 600 black officers. "He's picking some blacks and some whites, so there doesn't seem to be a problem with that.
"But I have to say that I am surprised because he's picking from an old list and the new one is coming out. That's going to concern some people."
Deputy Commissioner Melvin C. McQuay, the department's No. 2 man, acknowledged the point. But he said all of the candidates are "among the best people we have in the department."
"It would be unfortunate if the timing of this was allowed to cast some shadow over them," he said.
Maj. Ronald L. Daniel, the department's personnel director, warned against making too much of the last-minute appointments, saying it was "totally consistent with the department's history."
"These jobs are often held open for budgetary reasons and then filled just as the list is about to expire," he said.
"In fact, it's not at all unusual for the list to change and grow, or shrink, right up to a few hours before the appointments are actually made."