McLean didn't abstain from panel vote on lease


In an apparent contradiction of her earlier public statements, Baltimore Comptroller Jacqueline F. McLean did not voice her abstention at a key committee meeting when city officials gave preliminary approval to lease a building owned by her and her husband.

Two people who attended the meeting say that Mrs. McLean, the third most powerful official in Baltimore government, also failed to reveal her financial stake in the building to the in-house committee that reviews city leases.

Loretta Smith, who represented the Department of Public Works at the meeting, was surprised to learn from reporters that the Federal Hill property still was owned by the travel business built by Mrs. McLean and her husband, James.

"I would have remembered if she had said she was involved," Mrs. Smith said. "She never mentioned that she had an interest."

Another committee member, who did not want to be identified, expressed shock. "Oh my goodness, are you kidding?" he said. "I never knew that."

A tape of the Space Utilization Committee's Oct. 26 meeting supports their recollections, even though typed minutes show that Mrs. McLean abstained.

Mrs. McLean, who oversees the Real Estate Department and chairs the committee, told The Sun last week that she learned of the lease shortly before the meeting. She said she abstained from voting on it, citing a personal conflict but not giving any details.

"Of course, yeah I said at the space hearing, I have a personal interest in this so I cannot vote on it," she said in a taped interview Friday.

She could not be reached yesterday to explain the apparent contradiction. Her attorneys have advised her not to comment ++ further, said her spokeswoman, Marie Henderson.

The discrepancy is one of the questions being explored by Maryland's special prosecutor. Agents for State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli have copied the tape and have summoned two city employees to appear before a Baltimore grand jury tomorrow.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke also has asked the city's ethics board to investigate the matter.

Arthur E. Held, head of the Real Estate Department, was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury. Yesterday, he said committee minutes usually are typed up within a day or two of the meetings. He could not say whether the comptroller had noted an abstention before the meeting or had ordered the notation in the minutes later.

"I'm aware now of the discrepancy. Any inconsistencies are certainly part of the investigation, and I'm not going to make any comment," he said. The focus of the investigation is a million-dollar deal that would have shifted the city's geriatric nursing service from rent-free offices at Montebello Rehabilitation Hospital to the former headquarters of the McLeans' defunct travel business. The lease was endorsed by the space committee and approved the next day by the Board of Estimates, the five-member body that approves all city contracts.

In November, the board rescinded the lease after learning that it had been proposed under a nonexistent address and the property still was owned by Four Seas & Seven Winds Inc., the debt-plagued travel agency.

Mrs. McLean said last week that she did not reveal the Four Seas connection to the Board of Estimates because she considered the building sold to prominent developer Otis Warren Jr. (The sale fell through after the lease was revoked.)

Mrs. McLean acknowledged she made a mistake by not informing the board, but said she had done the right thing at the committee meeting.

The agenda for that meeting listed the proposed Health Department lease at 11 W. Hughes St. -- the rear of the building -- instead of the more recognizable 12 W. Montgomery St.

The 10-year lease, at an annual cost of more than $106,000, sailed through the committee with little comment, according to the tape of the proceedings.

Shirley Summers, who handles city real estate transactions, and also was subpoenaed to appear before the grand jury, introduced the item by explaining that the Health Department was being evicted from Montebello.

Montebello has denied asking the geriatric nursing service to leave.

Ms. Summers also says on the tape that the Federal Hill offices would give the Health Department a chance to consolidate the geriatric service.

The proposed lease of $9.73 per square foot is "better than anything else the city was offered," she says. She noted that the rent did not increase over the 10 years. When it came time to vote, the comptroller was bantering with several committee members about cleaning office space. She says on the tape that she used to have to vacuum her own office at night.

"Talk about cleaning, this sounds terrible," she says. Then she interrupts herself to add, "Let me move this, and I'll tell you guys a story."

A committee member makes the motion, and all the voices vote aye. Mrs. McLean's voice is not discernible. No one voted against the proposal or abstained on the tape.

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