Jackie McLean says she's 'stupid'? Like a fox, maybe


So what I hear Jackie McLean saying is that she honest-to-god thought her husband had sold that building in Federal Hill and that she had no idea -- I mean, it didn't even cross her mind -- to tell anyone on the Board of Estimates that, gee, there might be a conflict of interest in the city paying, oh, about a million bucks over 10 years to lease the place.

All who believe that, so indicate by raising their hands.

Seeing none, we shall conclude that the fuel-indicator light on Jackie McLean's credibility tank is blinking red, which is a terrible thing for the comptroller of Baltimore. She's supposed to be the trusted watchdog of financial affairs. In this little episode, she's acted more like a fox.

In defense of her oafish attempt to slip a fast one by the Board of Estimates, McLean released a torrent of gobbledygook to explain her actions. "Call me stupid," she told The Sun.

OK, Jackie, you're. . .

But hold on. That dog won't hunt, Jackie. You're not that dense. Come on. You were trying to slide one by. That's all. And Mary Pat Clarke, City Council president and candidate for mayor, gets the credit for catching you within an hour after the Board of Estimates approved the deal Oct. 27. The mayor, however, was a lot slower to catch on -- two weeks slower.

The deal McLean put together called for a city agency to move from a rent-free facility to the former headquarters of her and her husband's debt-plagued business in Federal Hill -- a building they were trying to sell. The deal would have cost this financially-strapped city $106,000 per year. And the mayor, who was among those who approved that deal, said he didn't remember it. Got that? From ground-zero rent to $106,000 -- and the mayor didn't remember it. You'd think such a deal would have raised the mayoral eyebrows.

But then, that's what the comptroller, the city watchdog, is for -- raising eyebrows, barking loudly, sniffing madly when something stinks. Guess it's true a dog can't smell its own scent.

He already heard

The National Football League, criticized for the way it notified the losing cities in the first heat in the expansion race, improved its delivery somewhat last week in suburban Chicago. But not much. This time, a delegation of NFL executives visited each city's private suite at the Hyatt Regency O'Hare to notify them that Jacksonville, Fla., was the upset winner. One problem: They told the winning Jacksonville contingent first, and the winner immediately blabbed the news all over the place.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer was returning to the Baltimore suite when a group of celebrating Jacksonvillians boarded the elevator, wearing baby-blue Jaguar shirts and caps, and slapping each other on the back. A few glances were exchanged between the revelers and Don Donaldo, who was reported to have been gloomy but silent for the short ride in the crowded elevator.

When NFL President Neil Austrian and his entourage finally made it to the Baltimore delegation a few minutes later, the room was full of long faces. "I guess you already heard?" Austrian asked, demonstrating the kind of keen intuition that has guided the league from a host of losing lawsuits to boggled expansions to dull-as-dirt Super Bowls to declining TV ratings. The Don turned his back and stared out the window.

Gentle Ben's elf house

"You ain't seen tacky till you seen what I got right here in my back yard in Hebbville," says Ben Sauter. Gentle Ben lives off Rolling Road, along a stretch of diminishing countryside in western Baltimore County. When an old oak tree died in his front yard, Ben topped it and cut it up. But he left a tall stump in the ground. Ben, a retired carpenter and one of the jolliest men you'll ever meet, cut a rectangular chunk out of the trunk, then he hinged the thing back into place and added a door knob.

He cleaned out the inside of the trunk, and topped the whole thing with a roof. "An elf house" is what Sauter says it is. He's decorating it for Christmas, looking for a couple of elves to rent it to. If you know any, give Ben a call.

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